Down defender Benny McArdle hoping to move on from frustrating year as Mournemen look towards 2020
EXPERIENCED defender Benny McArdle is aiming to put a frustrating year behind him as Down head towards a crucial 2020 campaign.
Niggly injuries restricted the Annaclone man to just one start in county colours throughout 2019 – in the All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Mayo – after a muscle injury suffered during the Dr McKenna Cup limited his League involvement.
McArdle came through Sunday's 2020 McKenna Cup opener unscathed, playing the full 70-plus minutes as Down recovered from a slow start to defeat Fermanagh in Enniskillen.
And, at 33, he admits it is now a case of managing his body to make sure he is available for the Mourne County's bid to escape Division Three.
“I had quad and hamstring trouble and now I'm just trying to keep on top of it,” he said.
“In fairness to Paddy [Tally], when I spoke to him at the start of the year he said he would manage my training load so I'm just trying to do what he tells me.
“They probably do tailor it a wee bit now compared to the rest of the squad but you still have to do the work. It's something you always have to be mindful of, and it's something I've become accustomed to in the four years since I ruptured the Achilles.
“You always have to put injury prevention first and it does help going into your later years.”
A youthful Down side could have done with McArdle's physical presence and know-how during this year's League campaign, as they just missed out on promotion following a devastating last day defeat to Louth in Newry.
They can afford no such slip-ups this time around, with the prospect of Tier Two Championship football looming for all those counties left in Divisions Three and Four by the time all is said and done next spring.
As one of the few remaining survivors from Down's run to the All-Ireland final in 2010, McArdle admits it is almost unthinkable that the Mournemen could find themselves contending in the new competition.
“It's been mentioned already, and it does put an extra emphasis on the League.
“The boys really want to get out of Division Three – they don't want to play in that second tier. Now, come the summer we could be there but our biggest goal now is League, we're not even talking Championship.
“It's become crucial now; I just know it's somewhere we don't want to be. Most of my football was played in Division One and Division Two, I've probably only played three years altogether in Division Three - I started there and then the last two years.
“You want to push on and you want to be playing against those better teams.”
Now in his 12th county campaign, McArdle has seen the Down squad change year upon year.
And he admits there is excitement about the latest batch of new blood pushing into the panel, with Burren's Liam Kerr, Liatroim's Liam Middleton and Ross Carr among those to catch the eye against the Ernemen.
“I do see a lot of good young players there coming through,” he said.
“Obviously Liam got man-of-the-match there today. There's a lot of pace, there is something exciting... there's definitely something to work with there.
“Those new guys add a freshness to training, and that's what you want, boys pushing for places and pushing each other on. That's hopefully what we'll get.”
FORWARD pair Donal O'Hare and Connaire Harrison are expected to return in time for the start of Down's National League campaign.
Neither were involved in Sunday's Dr McKenna Cup win over Fermanagh, and won't feature in the pre-season competition as all eyes are firmly fixed on the Division Three opener against Tipperary on January 25.
“Donal's in Australia, just away for a couple of weeks' break, and Connaire is in rehabilitation from an old injury from last year so it'll be a wee while before Connaire's back,” said Mourne boss Paddy Tally.
“We're working towards the League. Our plan is to be as strong as we possibly can for our first League match.”