By Michael McMullan
RYAN Johnston will be ready for action when Down take on rivals Armagh on Sunday in Clones (4pm) insists assistant manager Marty Clarke.
The Kilcoo star kicked 0-3 in a Man of the Match performance against Donegal on Sunday before being replaced after an hour and didn’t look to be moving too freely as he left the field.
“Ryan had just run himself into the ground,” Clarke confirmed after Sunday’s win in Páirc Esler.
“It was one of those things late in the game, he just signaled that we needed fresh legs to come in.
“We got Conor Poland on for him…there is nothing wrong.”
Down’s prize for a first championship win over Donegal since 2010 is a clash Armagh with a place in next month’s decider up for grabs.
Before that, Down’s u-20s face Derry in Wednesday’s Ulster final (BOX-IT Athletic Grounds 7.30) with Conor Laverty also in charge.
Down have four u-20 players on their senior panel – Odhran Murdock, Paddy McCarthy, Oisin Savage and captain Ryan Magill.
Laverty may well have to prepare without the latter after Magill limped out of their semi-final win over Monaghan.
The other three will be available for selection after not being including in Down’s senior squad for Sunday’s win over Donegal, with Magill and Murdock sitting out the last two senior league games.
McCarthy featured against Antrim in the NFL, but hasn’t played since and was a key player in their u-20 win over Tyrone with his marking assignment on Ruairi Canavan.
“It was disappointing we had to make the decision, but we knew that,” Clarke said, hinting at the GAA’s decision to change the wording of rule 3.17 at their March Central Council meeting leaving players unavailable to play in senior and u-20 tier one competitions in the same seven-day window.
“There were a lot of players who could’ve put their hand up to play there today. We did accept that we had to pick one or the other.
“Conor [Laverty] always felt, and we full supported him, that the right thing to do was to allow Odhran to play for the u-20s, his own age group. It was the same with the others, to allow them to represent their county in an Ulster final.
“We would’ve loved to have had all those players, but they are ready for the u-20 final now on Wednesday.”
It’s a huge week for the Mourne County with an Ulster title on the line and a place in an Ulster senior final up for grabs, but Clarke heaped praise on Laverty’s input.
“The work he is putting in immense for this county and I don’t think you can underestimate it,” said Clarke, a former All-Ireland minor winner.
“He was able to make those calls with conviction and he wasn’t relying on the good will of other people. He is doing a lot of it on his own and we are supporting him as a management team.”