Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Down manager James McCartan warns team as promotion bid heats up

Down's Ryan Boyle is challenged by Louth's Colm Judge

Louth 0-9 Down 4-16: James McCartan has become rather too accustomed to flirtations with glory since taking over as Down boss just over five years ago.

And that's precisely why he views his team's current Allianz League renaissance with nothing more than caution at this point in time.

A heartbreaking one-point defeat to Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland final, a clinical annihilation at the hands of Donegal in the 2012 Ulster final and demotion from Division One last year are among the low-points in his side's recent history.

Yet McCartan's obvious pride in his county, palpable thirst for success and marked resilience continue to keep him among the higher echelons of managers.

If his personal stock is boosted by an unbeaten league run to date, then the real satisfaction for this personable 1991 and 1994 All-Ireland winner lies in the fact that he is slowly but surely fashioning a side that might yet become acquainted with silverware of some hue.

Louth will surely testify to this. After just 20 minutes of an embarrassingly one-sided outing – I am loathe to call it a contest – at a saturated Pairc Esler, three significant elements had been decided.

Two more league points, which may prove to be invaluable in the future, were in the home team's possession, Donal O'Hare had already earned the man of the match accolade and a fresh dimension had been added to the Division Two promotion race. Both as a player and latterly as a manager, McCartan's feet have never left the ground and that's the way it will remain, it seems.

"Look, we've got another couple of points, that's about the height of it," he maintains.

"I won't be reading too much into this.

"Maybe we caught Louth on an off-night but there are much bigger challenges ahead of us."

Within that frenetic first quarter, O'Hare had posted 1-4, his sublime 19th minute goal helping to propel his side into an unassailable 1-8 to nil lead with Louth still firmly entrenched in the starting blocks.

They may have roused themselves sufficiently to pilfer a brace of points through Darren Clarke but with the mesmeric O'Hare the essence of accuracy, Down were already out of sight by half-way when they led by 1-11 to 0-2.

"I thought our movement and finishing in the first-half were good. We created chances and took the most of them," reflects McCartan with more than a hint of understatement, "It was also encouraging to note the contribution that our substitutes made.

"Competition for places is being stepped up and that's what we want."

With Peter Turley, Ryan Mallon and Kevin McKernan forming an authoritative midfield triangle, Down swatted aside Louth's feeble attempt at a third quarter recovery to launch a majestic finish that was highlighted by a brace of goals from on-fire substitute Benny Coulter, a fourth from Conor Maginn and O'Hare's tenth point in his stunning solo show.

Louth? Paddy Keenan's courageous efforts at midfield gradually morphed into frustration, Declan Byrne's three fine points were too little and certainly much too late, Brian White's red card merely added insult to injury and the team as a whole continued to indulge in the litany of unforced errors that essentially helped to smooth the path to Down's walk in the park. McCartan, though, will continue to pick his steps carefully through what he clearly believes is a divisional minefield.

"We have all seen how results can go," he stresses.

"We went to Armagh the last day, a place where we have not been doing well in recent times, and beat them.

"But look at Meath – they have now been beaten by Armagh and Monaghan.

"I said at the outset of the league that any side could beat any other team in Division Two and things certainly seem to be panning out that way."

Nonetheless, it can be safely assumed that there will be a spring in Down's step when they confront Galway next Sunday knowing that victory will almost certainly thrust them even more firmly onto the radar for a place in the top bracket.

Down: S Harrison; D McCartan, B McArdle, D O'Hagan; R Boyle, A Carr, C Garvey; P Turley, R Mallon; K McKernan (0-1),M Poland (0-1), C Maginn (1-0); D O'Hare (1-10, 0-0-8 frees), N Madine (0-2), J Johnston (0-1). Subs: D Rooney for Boyle (half-time), B Coulter (2-0) for Madine (54), C Laverty for McKernan, P Fitzpatrick (0-1) for Mallon (both 58), C O'Hare for Poland, M Lively for Garvey (both 61).

Louth: N Gallagher; G Hoey, D Finnegan, K McLoughlin; S O'Brien, P Reilly, L Shevlin; P Keenan, B Duffy; A Reid, C Judge (0-2, both frees), D Byrne (0-3, 0-1 free); A McDonnell, D Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free), D Maguire. Subs: B Donnelly for Duffy (21 mins), D Crilly for Reilly (24), B White (0-1) for Clarke (24), K Rodgers (0-1) for Judge (55), S Campbell for Reid (56), J Stewart for Hoey (62). Yellow cards: McLoughlin (34), Hoey (49). Red card: White (65).

Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh).

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