All Ireland Football Semi Final: Down's scoring power points way to glory against Kildare
When Down stunned Kerry in the All Ireland Football Championship quarter-final earlier this month their six-point winning margin (1-16 to 1-10) was a considerable source of satisfaction to manager James McCartan.
But what was equally pleasing to the Mourne boss was the fact that no fewer than eight players shared in the task of compiling the team’s winning total.
And McCartan now believes that this is one of the most important plus-factors his team will take into their semi-final meeting with Kildare on Sunday week.
“The fact that we now have a greater spread of scorers within the side is very encouraging indeed,” points out McCartan.
“What pleases me too is that players have been coming off the bench and getting scores to help bring us over the line in games.
“This keeps competition for places in the side stepped up and it also means that our opponents know they cannot isolate one or two players and think that they have nullified our scoring threat.”
Yet Down’s new-found scoring power has not arrived by accident. McCartan’s shrewd deployment of Mark Poland at centrethreequarters has brought a new dimension to the attack while Martin Clarke’s ability to convert frees and takes scores from play has enhanced the team’s finishing power.
In addition, Paul McComiskey has been given the chance to establish himself while John Clarke has had an extended run at full-forward.
And with Conor Maginn and Ronan Murtagh in particular having been introduced in recent matches and then getting on the score sheet, Down’s ability to finish games strongly has become more pronounced — a quality that will certainly be tested to the full by a Kildare outfit already renowned for its staying power.
McCartan, while aware that his side’s scoring prowess has been enhanced, is nonetheless seeking even greater accuracy against Kildare.
“They have been knocking up big scores themselves so it’s going to take a big score to beat them. We must take our chances against them otherwise we could make life hard for ourselves,” insists McCartan.
For several seasons, Benny Coulter has been Down’s scorer-in-chief, often proving their match winner, especially through his ability to pilfer vital goals.
Now the Mayobridge man, while still capable of registering important scores himself — witness his stunning goal against Donegal in the Ulster championship — is delighted that the scoring burden is being shared.
“It’s great to see boys like Mark Poland and Paul McComiskey coming in and getting vital scores. More players are now able to hit points from all angles and distances and this is helping to keep our momentum going,” he said.
And although there is still a strong feeling in the county that the Ulster title again proved elusive this year, Coulter believes that the team learned a great deal from their provincial final defeat against Tyrone.
“We met on the Tuesday night after that game and we vowed then that we would make a big bid to get as far as we could in the qualifiers,” said Coulter.
“We maybe were not that impressive against Longford and Offaly but against Sligo and then in the quarter-final against Kerry things just came right for us.
“The knowledge that we had gleaned from the Tyrone game stood to us against Kerry, though. We were able to correct things ourselves on the pitch and finish the match strongly. That has certainly helped out confidence going into the All Ireland semi-final.”