Down boss Marty Mallon 'hugely frustrated' by commitment issues in county
DOWN hurling boss Marty Mallon has spoken of his “huge frustration” as he patches together a threadbare squad for tomorrow’s Christy Ring Cup clash with Roscommon.
The Ardsmen travelled to Inniskeen a fortnight ago with just 19 players and, after being reduced to 14 men following Caolan Bailie’s first half red card, were sent crashing out of the Ulster Championship by Armagh.
Along with Gary Savage and Paul Coulter, Mallon took over the Down job at the end of last year and the Portaferry man admits he has been shocked by the commitment issues they have faced.
Full-back Conor O’Neill, wing-back James McGrath and the industrious Rian Brannigan have already opted off the panel, while injuries have severely hampered their attacking options heading into the Christy Ring Cup.
Hamstring injuries kept Eoghan Sands and Danny Toner out of the defeat to Armagh, while a knee problem has sidelined Caolan Taggart. Donal Hughes was also unavailable against the Orchardmen.
Sands and Hughes could return to the fold tomorrow, but Mallon and his management team must still make the best of a difficult situation.
“The frustration is not getting everybody to focus on what we’re trying to do,” said Mallon.
“Against Armagh we had four forwards out of six missing and, to be honest with you, if one or two of them had played we’d have beaten Armagh handy. That’s taking nothing away from Armagh but we should’ve beaten them the way it was, even with 14 men.
“We can’t understand why boys aren’t throwing themselves into it full on. The 22, 23 fellas we have have been absolutely fabulous - brilliant trainers, committed, dedicated - but it’s that five or six top players who really need to buy in to give us that push to go and challenge.
“We can’t keep harping on about our generation, but you have to put hurling first, make it a priority. Now it seems to be well down the pecking order.
“We come from a small county, we’ve three senior clubs here and if we lose two or three players, we’re gone, we’re in trouble.”
The four-man management team in Antrim adopted a zero tolerance policy at the start of the year, with a tough training regime designed to weed out anybody who didn’t have the stomach for it.
After an encouraging League campaign, they are starting to see the benefits of that approach, and Mallon admits Down may have to follow the Saffrons’ lead if they are to have any chance of awakening the county from its current slumber.
He continued: “I think if you talk to ‘Sambo’ [Antrim joint manager Terence McNaughton] he’ll tell you the same – they’ve got them this year but last year it was the exact same for them.
“It’s hard to get the best 15 on the pitch. There’s other things going on in people’s lives - it’s society, it’s life - so this has been a learning curve for us.
“At the start of the year we were flying when we had the whole squad out and everybody was going at it. In the McGurk Cup, the shape of the team was exactly what we wanted.
“The players who are there are buying it and they’re fully behind what we’re thinking, but sometimes you have to let boys go. It’s a shame but what can you do? And some of the excuses we’re getting… I don’t know what to say.
“Next year we’ll have to go down the same road [as Antrim] and if they’re not going to commit, we’ll have to move on.”