All-Ireland Qualifiers: Awesome Cork a big ask for Down, says McCartan
Qualifier wins to date over Clare, Leitrim and Antrim could hardly be classed as the perfect build-up to Down’s renewal of rivalry with Cork at Croke Park on Saturday.
Conor Counihan’s side won last year’s all Ireland final (0-16 to 0-15), and while James McCartan’s men will have revenge on their minds at Headquarters, it will take a supreme effort if they are to halt Cork’s bid to retain the Sam Maguire Cup.
McCartan has already made it clear that nothing his side has encountered so far this year will quite compare to Cork’s well-oiled machinery.
“Cork will certainly be another step up,” he said. “We played two Division Four teams in Clare and Leitrim before we met Antrim and didn't set the world alight. Antrim were Division Two but Cork will be different.
“They beat us in last year's All-Ireland final and then, convincingly, in the league (3-17 to 0-15). They will now be plotting as to just how they can beat us again.”
McCartan, though, has been handed a boost now that Daniel Hughes, Caolan Mooney and Peter Fitzpatrick are pushing for places in his starting line-up.
Hughes, who has been injured lately, played for a portion of last Saturday’s win over Antrim in which Mooney replaced Conor Maginn and scored one of Down’s three goals in their 3-13 to 0-10 victory.
Mooney is rapidly maturing into a quality player but is still committed to embarking on a new career in Australian Rules football in the autumn.
Maginn, who had impressed when he was brought on as a substitute against Leitrim, found himself called ashore against Antrim but could still be in the frame for a starting place against the All- Ireland champions.
“The form of our substitutes certainly offers the possibility of some interesting selection options for Saturday. That has to be a bonus,” added McCartan.
“Cork were not fazed in the least when they lost in the Munster final to Kerry a couple of weeks ago because they knew they had the safety net of the back door.
“When you look at the effort they put in against Kerry in the second half you just know that they are going to be hard to stop.
“It’s an awesome task for us but you just have to go for it. They have had a good chance to look at us again in our game against Antrim.
“We would not be happy with our performance overall in that game although we won by 12 points in the end.”
McCartan can also take considerable heart from the form being shown by two players in particular who are still striving to become regulars in his side.
Conor Laverty was man of the match against Antrim, his superb solo goal highlighting a five-star individual performance, while Aidan Brannagan has seized his chance to stake a strong claim for the right-full-back position.
Brannagan was very much to the fore against the Saffrons and his teak-tough tackling allied to his stamina and ball-playing skills could prove more than useful assets against Cork.