GAA Football

Down to be without versatile Conor Francis for 2020 campaign

Australia-bound Conor Francis was a regular for Down this year, during Paddy Tally's first season in charge. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

DOWN boss Paddy Tally won’t be able to call on the versatile Conor Francis next year after he joined the Mourne County’s travelling contingent, with the Bredagh ace relocating to Australia.

Francis, who can operate effectively anywhere around the middle eight, was a regular during Tally’s first season in charge, and started all three of Down’s Championship games against Armagh, Tipperary and Mayo.

However, following Bredagh’s championship exit to rivals Carryduff, he has headed Down Under and is not expected to feature in red and black next year.

“Conor’s decided that he wants to go away and travel for the year, he’s been thinking that for a while and now he’s of an age before committing to a full-time career where he wants to do this,” said Tally.

“He has our blessing – of course we’re going to miss him, he made massive progress this year and was a very important member of our League and Championship squad.

“But it’s something you have to be aware of too; that there’s life outside of football.

There’s lots of players heading off and travelling and we’ve got to support them in that.

“If and when they do return, hopefully they can play themselves back into the squad again and that’s the way we’ve left it for Conor.”

Francis will be joining fellow Down exiles Gerard McGovern, Anthony Doherty, and Ronan and Shay Millar in heading for Australia, while former captain Niall McParland will be teaching in Qatar for another year.

They are men Tally would love to have at his disposal, but says he “can’t deny anybody that opportunity”.

“It’s an ongoing thing in Gaelic Games and we’re no different,” added the Galbally man.

“Now, Down maybe have a few more than others at the minute but I don’t think we’re really much different than anyone else - it’s just when a few sort of profile names, mainstays of the team, head away it becomes more pronounced.

“It’s just part of what being a young person is these days and you can’t deny anybody that opportunity. It would be wrong of us even to try and stand in their way. It’s important they do that and have no regrets as they go on in life.

“Niall’s teaching in Qatar and he has another year of his contract to run out there. He was home there and played a bit with Glenn but he’s back for the start of the term there. Hopefully when he does return he’ll be interested in putting himself forward for playing for Down again.

“Gerard would be a fantastic player to have back, we’d love to have him part of the squad again, but we have to respect that’s the position his life is in at the moment.

“This is their time to do that and when they’re back playing, and playing well with their club, obviously we would look at them again. That’s the way we leave it.”

One man Tally does hope to see back in county colours sooner rather than later is Niall Donnelly.

The Tullylish man went off injured in Down’s opening National League game at the end of January, and didn’t feature again. However, after undergoing an ankle reconstruction, Donnelly is now working his way back to fitness.

“Niall was unfortunate last year,” said Tally.

“He had a number of injuries; it was just one thing after another and it never really gave him an opportunity to get a run of games and build up his form.

“Now he’s had his operation and he’s in the early stages of rehab and recovery, so it’ll take Niall a wee while but we’ll support him with that and look forward to him coming back onto the training squad.”

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