GAA Football

Back in the day - Derry's Henry Downey facing battle to be fit for Championship - The Irish News, Feb 6, 1999

Paul McErlean (right), in action for his club St Paul's, sensed an improvement in Antrim's footballing fortunes 20 years ago.

DERRY’S former All-star defender Henry Downey, captain of the 1993 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winning team, is facing a battle to be fit for their Championship clash with Cavan on June 13.

Downey is to undergo an operation today in Belfast to resolve a groin injury, damage he sustained during last August’s defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Last night team spokesman Gerry Donnelly confirmed the Lavey defender is virtually certain to miss the rest of the NFL campaign.

It is similar surgery to that which another of Derry’s star players, ace marksman Eamonn Burns, had to undergo last September. Burns is now back in full training and hopes are high that he will figure in this month’s National League. Derry resume their bid to reach the NFL play-offs from Division One on February 14 when they take on Ulster rivals Monaghan.

Another of Derry’s famous All-Ireland winning side, right-back Kieran McKeever, is also facing possible surgery for a recurring groin injury, which has curtailed his training for some time. After Dungiven’s win in the Ulster Club Championship, he was due to have the injury operated on. The surgery did not go ahead and it is understood an operation is being considered again.

McKeever, like Downey, is out of tomorrow’s scheduled challenge match against Donegal and next week’s NFL Division One clash with Monaghan.

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THE jibes are part of the positive atmosphere about Aidan Thornbury’s tough training camp. Jokingly, they have been labelled as ‘the pensioners’.

In young, buoyant Antrim football squad, any players in and around the 30-something zone get ribbed by Kevin Madden and the ‘Help the Aged’ boys.

For one, Paul McErlean, it is year 10 of his association with the senior team. He draws the line, though, at a misplaced notion some might jump to.

The 29-year-old communications official says he is in no way “a veteran”, says the new set-up is “very encouraging”, and that this year Antrim may finally begin to turn the corner.

“It is very enjoyable to be around the Antrim squad, and I am very happy to be back involved with the team, happier still to be selected.

“There is a very good atmosphere in the squad, a very keen sense of competition, keen sense of discipline, the players are very motivated, and in any training session you can really sense the determination about the place.

“That, I think, is very good, as basically there are no hiding places, there’s no slacking, and every player is putting in his best at training, which is very encouraging.”

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UUJ won’t have the services of the McEntee twins for today’s tough Amstel Sigerson Cup opener against Garda College.

Despite the best efforts of Poly club president John Farrell, Crossmaglen manager Joe Kernan wasn’t prepared to release the talented brothers for today’s clash.

The news is a disappointment to UUJ manager Adrian McGuckin but need not prove a terminal blow for Jordanstown. Of the 26 players in the Poly squad who travelled south last night, all but two have played senior inter-county football.

McGuckin was still mulling over his selection options for today’s match. Derry men Sean Lockhart (although he is not 100 per cent fit after an ankle injury), Fergal Crossan, Paul Diamond, and Sean McGuckin seem certain to start in defence but the other two places are up for grabs with Tyrone youngsters Ciaran Devlin, Paul McGurk, and Ryan Lynch plus Down’s Paudie Matthews all hoping to be included.

Barry Duffy must be fancied to claim one of the midfield slots possibly alongside Sligo star Nigel Clancy although John Toal, Jarlath Quinn and Paddy Logan will also be in McGuckin’s thoughts.

Derry, again, will supply at least three of the attackers in Gavin Diamond, Joe Cassidy and free-taker Gerard Cassidy, while Paddy McKeever, Niall McSorley, and Richard Thornton could complete the Poly forward line.

Jordanstown overcame an abrasive challenge from the same opponents at the corresponding Sigerson stage 12 months ago and another combative encounter is expected today. Garda’s big names players appear to be Cathal Daly (Offaly), Tom Bowe (Laois), Declan O’Keeffe (Kerry), Dom Connellan (Roscommon), and John Crowley (Cork), although UUJ won’t be surprised to see a few more well-known faces lining out for the Cops.

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