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All Ireland Football Championship: How Down can make it six of the best at Croke Park

By Micheal McGeary

James McCartan will have spent endless hours in recent weeks burning the midnight oil.

What has made ‘wee James’ the highly successful manager he is today is his now legendary attention to detail.

By now he will know every Cork player inside-out, strengths, weaknesses and where they are vulnerable.

McCartan is nobody’s fool as he’s displayed already this season to telling effect.

When the Mourne men were dumped out of the Ulster championship by Tyrone at the semi-final stage there was no self pity.

Instead, he dusted himself down and took stock before making plans to safely negotiate the minefield that is the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Some games especially those against Longford in Newry and Offaly in Tullamore were much too close for comfort.

But McCartan and his men survived and all the time, manager and players alike were on a learning curve.

Down now have a manager who is smart and relaxed and very comfortable in his first season as manager.

This Down side has a definite game plan and in Martin Clarke and Benny Coulter have two of the players of the year.

The great strength of this Down side is that it plays as a team.

Sure, it has its marquee players, but the way they back each other up is remarkable.

In a sense positions count for little. For instance Martin Clarke, the outstanding playmaker in the country, plays all over the pitch.

Half forwards can easily revert to defensive roles with the greatest of ease whenever the occasion demands.

The confidence and self belief that flows through the side suggests they are hardly like to let slip a lead in the manner of Dublin in their All-Ireland semi final against Cork last month.

Down are sometimes accused of being arrogant, but it’s more a case of being unbelievably self-confident.

It’s like the old joke. A Down footballer with an inferiority complex is a man who think he’s only as good as anybody else.

And yet it would be foolish to underestimate Cork who have quality right through their side.

Manager Conor Counihan’s priority has to be to get quick early ball through to his inside forwards, much quicker than they have been doing.

Colm O’Neill is an exciting talent, a man blessed with all the skills as he demonstrated with a goal and point in the opening 10 minutes of last season’s All-Ireland against Kerry.

Daniel Goulding and Sheehan are two other attackers who have both the pace and skill to torment the most resolute of defences.

From a Down perspective both Benny Coulter and Martin Clarke will be central to their assault on a sixth All-Ireland title.

Just how well Cork cope with this dynamic duo will determine who will be lifting the Sam Maguire come five o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

Down are at their most potent and effective when leaving just four forwards up front so allow sufficient space for Martin Clarke to prise open defences at will.

Cork have the experience of having played in recent All-Irelands and that has to count for something. And yet Down, without that level of experience, are the form team as they demonstrated so tellingly against both Kerry and Kildare.

Midfield has been a productive area for Down in recent games and here Cork will be putting pressure on both Kalum King and Peter Fitzpatrick.

But Down’s greater mobility and footballing skills should just tip the balance in their favour.

James McCartan has transformed his defence into a much more resolute unit than earlier in the season.

And yet early in the match against Kildare there were a few heart-stopping moments.

And that won’t have been lost on Conor Counihan, for while the game has changed over the years, it’s still a case of goals that win matches.

Belfast Telegraph

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