Down is a proud football county. Self belief, let it be said, has never been lacking there.
That’s hardly surprising given that the Mourne county has won more All-Ireland crowns than any other Ulster county — five in all.
Yet their Ulster title famine, which stretches back to 1994, has certainly taken its toll on morale in recent years because of recurring setbacks in the Championship series.
Time and again Down have been written up only to disappoint their friends and followers.
However, in his first season term in charge in 2010, James McCartan took the side into the All Ireland final and this instilled fresh belief for last year’s Championship, only for Armagh to clip Down’s wings in Ulster before they fell to Cork in the fourth round of the qualifiers.
Last Sunday, Down looked a spent force when they trailed a fired-up and well-organised Monaghan by 0-11 to 0-2 with 34 minutes of their thrilling Ulster semi-final gone at the Morgan Athletic Grounds.
But an Aidan Carr goal from a penalty right on the break and a third quarter points blitz not only restored Down’s morale but provided the platform for a spectacular finish in which Darren
O’Hagan’s winning point brought the game to a crescendo.
Now it can be reasonably expected that Down will make a strong push to dislodge Donegal from their Ulster throne.
No matter who they meet, though, in the Ulster final on July 22, James McCartan’s side will be underdogs but that is a role to which they have grown |accustomed over the past decade in particular. They will have absorbed a valuable lesson from the way they were caught out by Tommy Freeman’s sucker-punch goal and will also have taken stock of the rash tackling which led to them conceding a succession of frees in the opening quarter.
Tyrone or Donegal will be particularly difficult opponents for the Mourne side, although the character, resolve and skill they revealed in their Lazarus-like recovery last Sunday will surely stand to them in the decider.
But they cannot afford to allow their opponents to get off to such a generous start.