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All Ireland Football Championship: Down players will only party after lifting Sam Maguire

By John Campbell

When a team books its place in an All Ireland final this is normally a cause for celebration.

But when Down hurdled Kildare in the All Ireland Football Championship semi-final last month the players went straight home, their minds already focused on Sunday’s Sam Maguire decider against Cork.

This perhaps as much as anything else reflects the single-minded approach the Mourne County squad has adopted towards achieving the ultimate success.

But if post-match euphoria was markedly absent among the players, the supporters certainly let their hair down in a tidal wave of celebrations — and that’s precisely the way that manager James McCartan wanted it.

“We needed a big performance against Kildare and we got it but we saw that win as a means to an end. That end will be reached next Sunday.

“While we could have gone somewhere to enjoy ourselves, the players instead were happy to bask in the satisfaction of winning while at the same time turning their focus to Cork.

“Unfortunately, in this sport you don’t get much time to enjoy things. The fans on the other hand had something to celebrate and you could not blame them for enjoying themselves,” states McCartan.

Even when his side won promotion to Division One of the National League and then embarked on their colourful journey through the All Ireland qualifiers, McCartan was at pains to ensure that his players’ feet remained firmly on the ground.

And he feels that things evened themselves out in the win over Kildare.

“I believe that some of the free-kicks that were awarded against us maybe compensated for the fact that Benny Coulter was in the square when he scored our goal.

“But there is now no doubt that Cork have a great panel that is physically imposing and very skilful. It is going to take a huge performance from us if we are to beat them,” insists McCartan.

And he adds: “But what I as a manager am seeking to achieve is extracting an optimum performance from my side on the day.

“You do not get too many bites at the All Ireland cherry and now we want to win not only for ourselves but for the thousands of fans who have been with us all the way.”

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