DOWN could yet be able to call upon key forward Donal O’Hare once inter-county action finally resumes, after fears he may not feature at all.
The Burren ace was expected to undergo surgery for a knee problem earlier this year, which would have almost certainly ruled him out of Paddy Tally’s plans as the Mournemen prepare for life in Division Two before Championship gets under way.
However, new Burren boss Jim McCorry explained that other options were also available which could see the issue managed and allow O’Hare to carry on with club and county.
“Donal has had a knee injury, he’s been assessed and there are surgery and non-surgery options,” said the former Armagh assistant manager.
“Hopefully the non-surgical option is something we can continue with, and we can manage it properly because the last thing any player wants – especially when you’re getting to be one of the more senior players – is surgery and then losing a lot of time.
“Hopefully we can manage him through because he’s a key part of the Burren squad and somebody you certainly wouldn’t want to lose. But whatever is best for him, that’s what we’ll do.”
Losing the 29-year-old would have been a big blow for Down, as he has been one of the county’s most reliable score-getters over the course of the last decade, popping up with the crucial second half goal in last November’s opening Ulster Championship win over Fermanagh.
It is also a boost to Tally’s attacking options as the Mournemen bid to bury the memories of last year’s provincial semi-final defeat to eventual Ulster champions Cavan.
The weekend of May 8/9 has been earmarked as a possible National League start date, with the Irish government expected to give counties the green light for a return to collective training – possibly as soon as April 5, depending on the GAA’s elite status being reinstated.
In a proposed restructure of the National League for 2021, Down have been placed alongside Meath, Westmeath and All-Ireland finalists Mayo in Division Two North.
If available, O’Hare will also be a central figure for Burren when Down championship action gets under way later in the summer. The St Mary’s lifted the Frank O’Hare Cup in 2018 but Kilcoo have otherwise been the dominant force for much of the past decade.
Having guided the Magpies to four championships and four Division One crowns during his time at Pairc Eoghan Rua, it came as a surprise in some quarters when McCorry was announced as Burren’s manager last November.
“The time we won the three in-a-row they said they were going to put a statue up to me in the church grounds – I don’t think the foundations went in and I don’t think I’ll be getting the statue now,” said the Lurgan man.
“Look, after I left, Kilcoo moved on. They appointed a great manager in Paul McIver, and then Mickey Moran and Conleith [Gilligan]… they’ve had great success.”
Burren have enjoyed considerable success too, albeit at underage level, with hopes high that they will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
And McCorry can’t wait to start working with his new players.
“Just because you have successful underage teams, it doesn’t automatically convert into winning championships. But to have the opportunity to work with those young guys, and then you’ve the experience of Kevin McKernan, Conaill McGovern, Donal O’Hare, they’ll help those young fellas develop further.
“I’m not expecting 10 U19 fellas to walk into the senior starting team but they’ll be working with the rest and a really strong management team, and that will help to bring them on and be in a position to challenge in Down.”