‘This is the strongest squad we’ve had in a while’: Magill glad to be back firing after frustrating start to 2024

The Down players gear up for last Saturday's Division Three clash with Offaly at Pairc Esler. Picture by Philip Walsh
The Down players gear up for last Saturday's Division Three clash with Offaly at Pairc Esler. Picture by Philip Walsh

IT all felt a little bit like history repeating for Danny Magill at the start of this year.

Rewind to 12 months earlier, and the Burren speedster was excited about his first campaign in red and black, and getting to follow in the footsteps of All-Ireland winning father Miceal.

But then an ankle injury took the trigger finger off the starter’s gun. His debut was delayed until the last day of the League, Down taking out their frustration on Offaly as promotion to Division Two eluded them.

From a man-of-the-match Ulster Championship bow against Donegal to goalscoring turns in Tailteann Cup victories over Longford, Cavan and Laois, Magill quickly established himself as a mainstay of Conor Laverty’s side.

It would be easy to forget that, before Saturday night’s helter-skelter clash with Offaly in Newry, the 22-year-old has only had seven starts, alongside a late cameo against Antrim the weekend previous.

Yet his pace, his ability to break the lines, they have been missed.

No sooner had another new year started than Magill found himself in a similar position to last – watching from the wings, itching to get back out on the field.

“I suffered a stress fracture in my right leg, my right fibia, the Tuesday night before the Derry game in the McKenna Cup.

“I was training away, we were just going through things, I was speaking to Lav about going up through the gears. But then I was telling the physios I had really sore calves, we were doing massages, but eventually we knew it was more than just a deep tissue issue...”

An MRI on Thursday of that week revealed a stress fracture, leaving Magill in a moon boot for the next month as the Mournemen upped their training ahead of the League start.

“I’m not long back into the running, but the physios and Stevie Branagan have been immense.

“This is only my second year, and even last year only I got to play half of it, so I’m still taking it game by game...”

Magill was introduced midway through the second half against the Saffrons, and helped turn a tight encounter into one-way traffic as Andy McEntee’s side tired.

Laverty handed him a start against the Faithful, with the likes of Kilcoo’s Ryan Johnston bagging a goal after being sprung from the bench.

Men are still working their way back to full fitness, with Clonduff forward Barry O’Hagan in the frame for some minutes before the end of the League, and Magill believes that – despite the chaos of Saturday night’s second half – Down are coming to the boil nicely ahead of Sunday’s visit of Tony McEntee’s Sligo.

“I was happy enough to stay on the field for the full 70, delighted to get the minutes.

“The game itself was a bit yoyo... we’re not too happy with that. We pride ourselves on the defensive side of our game, but it got a bit mad and we don’t really like that.

“Offaly have very fast players, they can hurt you on the break, so we definitely need to sharpen that up for Sligo next week. But getting the likes of RJ [Johnston] back is a big boost, we all know what a talent he is.

“I think this is the strongest squad we’ve had in a while. If you’re bringing boys like RJ, Ryan Magill, Oisin Savage off the bench, big Anthony Doherty, you’re doing alright.”

And, with maximum points from their four outings so far, the sole focus now is on finishing the job and doing what Down couldn’t quite manage last year – earning promotion, and putting themselves in the frame for the All-Ireland Championship.

“Obviously every county wants to be in Division One and playing Sam Maguire football, but not everybody can.

“We know ourselves that we’re in Division Three for a reason, we got ourselves in here - it’s our duty to get ourselves out.”