Captain Rodgers 'fitter and stronger than ever'
There can't be a much worse fate for an inter-county footballer than missing an All-Ireland final through injury when you are captain.
But Ambrose Rodgers has learned to be philosophical about such setbacks and appreciative of what he has.
Rodgers was Down captain for their All-Ireland final appearance against Cork two years ago, the first time from six final appearances that they failed to take the Sam Maguire Cup across the border.
The defeat by just one point was heartbreaking, his absence as captain -- because of a cruciate ligament tear sustained in a club match the week after the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry that season -- compounding it.
But the Longstone man had long since learned to deal with such disappointments.
A serious injury sustained in a fourth-round qualifier against Wexford at Croke Park in 2008 has given him perspective on his participation in the game.
Involved in a collision late in that game, which Down lost, it was only when he returned to the dressing-room that the trauma of that day began.
Crippled with pain, the Down medical team reacted quickly and he was transferred to the nearby Mater Hospital for emergency surgery on a ruptured spleen.
Ironically, it was carried out by former Meath footballer Gerry McEntee, who had been a direct opponent of his late father, also Ambrose, in the 1991 All-Ireland final.
Ambrose Jnr lost a substantial amount of blood as a result of the ordeal and later had a second operation to remove the spleen completely. On top of cruciate ligaments in late 2007 and again in 2010, the toll of injuries have stacked up.
But it feels now like he is starting all over again and he admits that he has never felt stronger in his career, despite all the setbacks.
"The spleen was a more dangerous injury and it's not that common, but I was the third player in our club to have lost a spleen," he recalls.
"It happened Gerard Quinn and Brendan Kelly too. Seeing the fact that they came back after was encouraging. I knew I was going to be fine either way, but you just take more precautions and stuff. I take tablets, it's an ongoing thing.
"I wouldn't have any side-effects now, I just get on with things. I probably feel stronger than I ever did.
"It just seemed a bit more hassle coming back, pushing myself that bit earlier maybe didn't help me.
"The first cruciate I had, after nine months I was back. The second one, I had a bit more wear and tear, I was a lot younger the first time. Injuries seem to take their toll more as you get older and I seemed to push it that bit harder.
"I wasn't as smart as I should have been. I went against physios sometimes in pushing myself.
"But I play Gaelic football because I'm always thinking there are better days ahead, so I'm just going to take it as it comes."
James McCartan has installed Rodgers as captain again this season and his leadership value to the team was evident in the second half against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final.
"The good thing this year has been getting a run of games and getting that bit fitter and stronger. At the end of the day, you can train all you want, it's not the same as going all out with intensity of playing in the Ulster championship," he says.
He admits that Down have frustrated and flattered to deceive in equal measures, but feels they are "winning more than we are losing" now. "Staying in Division 1 for another season was important," he acknowledges.
Rodgers has noticed a significant difference in Donegal's approach in the championship games they have played to date.
"They play a strong brand of football," he says, "but the one thing is the attacking football they are playing this year.
"They are racking up scores and every time you look there are five, six, seven Donegal jerseys breaking forward."