MICKEY Donnelly admits there is a risk element in allowing county players to feature for their clubs ahead of Championship games – but the Down assistant manager feels the move is paying off.
The risk was evident as Ryan McEvoy went off injured during Kilcoo’s league clash with Mayobridge last Wednesday, and played no part in Saturday night’s Tailteann Cup preliminary round quarter-final win over Longford.
However, it is understood McEvoy will be available for selection against last eight opponents Cavan this weekend.
Meanwhile the likes of Rory Mason showed the value of a “fluid” approach. He impressed for Loughinisland against Clonduff on Wednesday and, despite having seen his minutes in county colours limited, helped turn the tide in Down’s favour when brought on two days later.
And Donnelly feels the “novel” approach adopted by Conor Laverty – who came off the Kilcoo bench against Mayobridge - has worked in Down’s favour so far.
“We used 40 men in the National League and that wasn’t by accident,” said the Tyrone man.
“There were a lot of reasons for that – maybe lads didn’t put their hand up and say ‘that’s my jersey, I’m going to hold onto that’.
“We’ve tried to be as fluid as we possibly can. If you’re not good enough today, you’ll not be in next week. That’s the way it has to be. It can appear a wee bit manic because it’s so fluid, but that’s just where we are.
“We have an awful lot of players of a similar level and boys can be on it some days, the next day it can be an opportunity for somebody else. We try to keep everybody happy as much as we can.
“Conor’s managed it brilliantly in terms of our maybe novel enough approach to club football – we have tried to really placate clubs in terms of giving lads an opportunity.
“I know in my own county, lads aren’t released, there’s a settled panel of over 40 not playing club football. Lav has been brilliant in terms of saying to lads ‘you’re maybe not in the first 18 this Sunday but you can go and play 40 minutes for your club, and if you play well you could maybe get some minutes at the weekend’.
“Rory Mason played with Loughinisland on Wednesday night, Eamon Brown and Paddy Branagan both came on for Clonduff on Wednesday night. It is fluid.”
Donnelly acknowledged that it could also present problems as weeks wore on but, having successfully negotiated the Tailteann Cup up to this point - albeit with their biggest challenge coming up at the weekend – believes the approach has been embraced by the Down players.
“Absolutely it’s a risk, but it’s a risk you have to take. People respect honesty.
“If someone was to say to you you’re not in the18 this week, you can go and play with your club and if you play well you could get in – I think that’s far better that keeping lads sitting on their hands, not getting into a 26 week after week and playing no football, then maybe an injury crisis comes, he gets his opportunity and he flops because he’s been so long without playing in that sort of environment.”
As well as McEvoy, Down were also without Kilcoo club-mates Jerome, Ryan and Shealan Johnston on Saturday night, while Glenn’s Niall McParland is another on the comeback trail.
“We would hope that Ryan [Johnston] and Shealan are getting closer - next Sunday could maybe come a wee bit too quick. Ryan’s just struggling with a wee bit of a soft tissue injury, same with Shealan.
“Niall McParland has been more of a long-term injury, he hasn’t played since the Armagh game but again he was there doing his bit of prehab before the match, and that’s the competitive environment we’re in.”