Down face injury crisis ahead of Division Two opener against Derry opener in Owenbeg
DOWN face an injury crisis ahead of next Saturday’s National League opener with Derry and manager James McCartan says he won’t know who he’ll have available until two days before the game.
Key trio Liam Kerr, Corey Quinn and Caolan Mooney could all miss the game and McCartan – installed in the role in late November and scrambling to get up to speed with a full-strength squad – has hinted that some of last year’s Ulster U20-winning youngsters will be blooded at Owenbeg.
“Liam hasn’t trained fully since coming back from his dislocated shoulder last year, Corey hasn’t trained fully, he has a hip injury,” McCartan explained.
“Caolan got a knock on the head against Antrim and was all clear with x-rays and scans but we have to tread carefully. There are a lot of plates spinning in the air and we won’t have a clearer picture until next Thursday.
“We’ll have players who will be coming back in to train in the next week but they’ll have no matches under their belt and that’s a decision we’ll have to make whether we throw them in against Derry or go with the lads who have been training consistently."
McCartan blooded a host of promising youngsters in the McKenna Cup games against Donegal and Antrim including 2021 Ulster U20 Championship winners Tom Close, Odhran Murdock and Andrew Gilmore.
“We’ve been impressed by some of the guys who have been playing U20s football over the last couple of years,” he said.
“A lot of them got blooded in the McKenna Cup and we have a big weekend ahead of us as regards trying to finalise a team to play against Derry. A lot of them are putting their hands up and I would envisage some of them playing at Owenbeg.”
Midfield pair Liam Middleton and Anthony Doherty were also injured against Antrim but could be fit for a League opener Down have to plan for minus players from county and Ulster champions Kilcoo who face Cork’s St Finbarr’s in the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final two hours’ before throw-in at Owenbeg.
If he was trying to lull the Derry management into a false sense of security, McCartan did a decent job of it but despite the personnel issues he faces, he says there will be “no excuses” against an Oak Leaf side that forced promotion from Division Three last year under Rory Gallagher.
“Rory has them going well since he took over,” said McCartan.
“They are obviously a well-oiled machine and from what I hear they play with numbers behind the ball so I’ll have to try and figure a way to break that down.
“Rory has had a lot more time with his group than we’ve had with ours but no excuses, we’re going there to try and win. It’s a big ask but that’s why we play inter-county football.”
And the games don’t get any less demanding after the trip to the north-west: The following weekend, Down host Galway in Newry and then travel to face Meath.
“Obviously survival would be a starting point (in Division Two) and in Premiership-speak you try and get to the 40 points as quickly as possible and for us that might be getting to four or five points,” McCartan explained.
“I was relegated on six points one year and survived on four so I don’t know how many points we’ll need. Certainly we’ll be looking for survival and if there are some games left after that we’ll change our priorities.”