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All Ireland Football Championship: Let’s herald a new crop of Down heroes

By John Campbell

The Down teams that won the All -Ireland football titles in 1960 and ‘61 will be honoured at a special half-time ceremony during Sunday’s All-Ireland football final.

And the players who will now carry the county’s hopes of capturing the Sam Maguire Cup for the sixth time against Cork plan to take their lead from the heroes who will be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of their own achievement in front of 82,000 fans.

Down skipper Ambrose Rogers, still unsure as to what involvement he will have in the game, nonetheless will urge his players to replicate the commitment and courage that the trail-blazers of the early 60s displayed in scripting a new chapter in GAA history.

“Those players set the benchmark for all Down teams since. Although we as a county have won five titles and would have liked a whole lot more, nevertheless they showed how it can be done,” he said. “They were up against big odds but they overcame them because of their team spirit and togetherness.”

His late father Ambrose snr of course played for Down in the 80’s and no one has a greater desire than the current skipper to see the Sam Maguire Cup return to the Mourne county.

“I would like to see us succeed, not just for myself but for my family and everyone associated with Down,” he said. “I think if we can take a leaf from the book of Paddy Doherty, Sean O’Neill and the rest of those boys we won’t be far away.”

For manager James McCartan, tomorrow will be an extra-special occasion too. His father James snr was in the early 60s sides while brother Daniel will be at right-full-back tomorrow.

But the manager knows more than anyone that sentiment does not help to win football matches.

“Sure it’s a big occasion for us all but we are at the cutting edge now,” he said. “While it is tremendous that the Golden Jubilee of Down’s first All-Ireland success and their ’61 triumph are being marked don’t forget that Cork have a proud tradition in the competition.

“They have produced many great players in the past and the side on duty at Croker on Sunday can look up to those guys.”

It was the scoring artistry of Doherty, O’Neill and McCartan snr that helped to cement Down’s success fifty years ago and tomorrow all Down fans hope that Benny Coulter, Martin Clarke and Danny Hughes will prove they’re worthy successors by charting the path to ‘Sam’ again fifty years on.

Hughes believes that the current side could not have better role models to follow.

“We know that we have a lot to live up to because of what Down teams have achieved in the past but we see that as an incentive, not a handicap,” he said. “There is a proud tradition in Down that we feel we are capable of upholding — if we did not feel like this then we should not be where we are.”

Manager McCartan will be looking to the work-rate of Hughes and Clarke in the middle third of the park, the ball-winning capacity of Kalum King at midfield and the authority of defensive pillars Kevin McKernan and Dan Gordon to lay the basis for victory.

Cork boss Conor Counihan is hoping that Alan O’Connor in particular can deliver quality possession from midfield to an attack in which Paul Kerrigan, Patrick Kelly, Donnacha O’Connor and Daniel Goulding can flourish.

But Counihan is anxious about just how his rearguard will cope against the marked flair and subtle creativity of the Down attack — and he will be keeping a weather eye out for their substitutes.

“This will definitely be a twenty-man game,” says Counihan.

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