Savage a shining light for Mourne men as they prepare for Wicklow test

By Shaun Casey

A FEW Down players caught the eye in the McKenna Cup and may well be in with a chance of pulling on a starting red and black jersey in Aughrim this weekend as the Mourne men kick start their Division Three league campaign.

Wicklow, managed by Armagh’s All-Ireland winning goal scorer Oisin McConville and coached by Down native Mark Doran, earned promotion from Division Four in 2023, although they lost the league final to Sligo.

Down just missed out on a spot in the semi-final of the McKenna Cup and while another outing would have been nice for Conor Laverty’s side ahead of the league, it’s not the be all and end all.

A first round loss to Ulster champions Derry was followed up with a dramatic three-point win over Cavan, but Down just missed out on a place in the last four due to Armagh’s superior score difference.

“It was a wee bit helter-skelter and all over the place, we are still delighted to get a win,” said Down coach Mickey Donnelly after they defeated Raymond Galligan’s Cavan.

“It was a nice win, albeit maybe 19 or 17 minutes gone in the second half it didn’t look likely.

“It was great to turn that around in the last 15 minutes.

“It would have been lovely to have had a semi-final and you would have another big game against one of the Division One teams but it is what it is.

“We’ll just have to tweak our preparations now and maybe get another game or a bit more training into the legs because the Wicklow game is only around the corner.”

Down u-20 star Oisin Savage really stood out that night, kicking 0-4 all from play and linking up with more experienced forwards like Pat Havern having struggled against Derry in round one when he finished without a score.

“He’s very sharp and he is a phenomenal tackler as well. Everybody sees what Sav does with the ball, but he is phenomenal without the ball as well,” said Donnelly of the young Loughinisland sharpshooter.

“I would have no problem saying his is our best at tackling out of possession.

“He was u-20 Ulster Player of the Year last year, he didn’t get that for nothing, but it is great for him to make that step up.

“He’ll be first to admit he probably found Saturday against Derry difficult against a tight defence and a good team. Agains Cavan he stepped up maybe with a bit more heart.”

Odhrán Murdock was another who impressed and despite interest from the AFL, the Burren midfielder will be a major asset to Down moving forward.

“He is a fantastic young fella and if he had made the journey to the AFL then we would have gone with our blessing because you want to see young lads do as well as they possibly can.

“But we want to keep him in a Down jersey for a long period of time, because I think he is a very special player.”

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