All Ireland Football Championship: Versatility underpins Down’s challenge
As Down manager James McCartan today prepares to name his team for Sunday’s All Ireland football semi-final against Kildare, he can take considerable comfort from a strident “We will play anywhere” chorus from his squad.
Player versatility has been a hallmark of Down’s stunning progress this year — Dan Gordon commenced the term at midfield and is now at full-back, Kevin McKernan was viewed as a corner-back and is now at centre-half-back, Martin Clarke has been listed at left-corner-forward but flourishes at centrethreequarters and his brother John has been converted from a wing-forward into a formidable full-forward.
In addition, Declan Rooney can play at corner-back or half-back, Benny Coulter is adaptability personified and Mark Poland has made a significant impact in the half-forward division. When McCartan’s men shocked fancied Kerry in the All Ireland quarter-final no fewer than three substitutes — Conor Maginn, Ronan Murtagh and Peter Fitzpatrick — bounded off the bench to land telling scores in the last quarter thus emphasising the rich options at the manager’s disposal.
Daniel Hughes, outstanding in the attack this year, perhaps best encapsulated the Down mood yesterday when he declared: “The players are prepared to do whatever is required to get us to the All Ireland title. Everyone wants to be in the side no matter what role they are given.”
McCartan’s only fitness worry still centres on skipper Ambrose Rogers but it now looks as if he will be an absentee from the starting line-up. This means that Dan Gordon may be moved out from full back to partner Kalum King or that Peter Fitzpatrick will be drafted into the engine-room.
Given the magnitude of the game, Gordon’s vast experience would appear to be a midfield pre-requisite particularly as Kildare are particularly strong in this sector which means that either Brendan McArdle or Declan Rooney would get the full-back berth.
McCartan is likely to resist the temptation to make any significant alterations to his attack despite the impressive form that his substitutes have shown.