Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Joe Kernan: Down ace Doyle shows the grit all sides cherish

Down's Benny Coulter is playing a big part in firing up his team's bid to win the NFL
Down's Benny Coulter is playing a big part in firing up his team's bid to win the NFL

iN all walks of life whether it be business, commerce, cultural or even family leadership is required.

No body or organisation will thrive without the guidance and inspiration offered by those who are unafraid to assume responsibility, particularly when the going gets tough.

This is especially true of sport and GAA in particular. While every team will have its captain, most will also be spliced with some players who have that inherent quality to set an example to their colleagues and provide the impetus to steer them out of potentially disastrous situations.

It has become much more apparent of late that in gaelic football there are players who, while they may not be wearing the captain’s armband, nonetheless wield a considerable influence within their side.

These are players to whom others, and in particular younger competitors, look up to and derive motivation from.

Right now with the Allianz Football League approaching the half-way stage managers are beginning to pin their faith more and more on their on-field leaders to set the tone for their teams’ performances.

And quite a number of Ulster bosses are fortunate in that they are blessed with players who are prepared to step up to the mark when the heat is on.

Donegal’s Jim McGuinness had good reason to be thankful for the experience, craft and industry that Karl Lacey, Neil McGee, Colm McFadden and Leo McLoone all brought to the table in their shock win over Tyrone last weekend.

At the same time, skipper Michael Murphy underlined his own leadership qualities by proving a catalyst for many of his team’s scores.

Similarly, Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke was quick to pinpoint the contribution of players like Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Steven McDonnell to his team’s win over Monaghan who themselves are currently leaning on players like Paul Finlay, Dick Clerkin and Dessie Mone to set the template for their survival in Division One.

And when Kildare were asking questions of Derry in Newbridge, Paddy Bradley, Gerard O’Kane, Kevin McCloy and Conleith Gilligan, all of whom have been round a few corners in the Oak Leaf colours, led the emphatic response that ultimately took their side to a two-point win. Unbeaten Down are already finding that the fit-again Liam Doyle will now bring an extra dimension of leadership to their side.

His courage in coming back from a double cruciate ligament injury has already won him many admirers and his undoubted ability to galvanise the side will further enhance his status while Benny Coulter, Martin Clarke and Dan Gordon are also on hand to show the way ahead in pursuit of the title in the ongoing absence of skipper Ambrose Rogers.

But four Ulster counties in particular — Tyrone, Antrim, Fermanagh and Cavan — are in great need of players to grasp the nettle and set the benchmark for their colleagues.

When Mickey Harte’s side confront Sligo on Sunday they will require people like Ryan McMenamin, Sean Cavanagh, Davy Harte and Stephen O’Neill to be much more influential than they have been of late while Antrim will require Tony Scullion, Paddy Cunningham, Andrew McClean and Kevin O’Boyle to be in the vanguard of their bid to beat Meath.

These two Ulster counties are rooted at the basement of the Division Two table and are in urgent need of resuscitation — that’s not something that had been generally anticipated at the outset of the league.

It is a measure of the uncertainty that has been prevailing in Cavan that three different players, I understand, have led the side this year.

But manager Val Andrews knows that unless established personnel such as Seanie Johnston, Ronan Flanagan, Ger Pierson and Mark McKeever do the business, their league campaign could easily be de-railed.

Fermanagh captain Barry Owens has already offered a typically forthright analysis of his team’s lack-lustre display against Longford and has stressed that nothing less than a win will do on Sunday when Wicklow are the visitors to Brewster Park, Enniskillen.

Yet for Fermanagh to surrender in two successive home games at this stage of the season would be unthinkable and could have a serious impact on morale.

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