All-Ireland Qualifiers: Down need to step it up again, says McCartan
Uu until they were beaten by Cork last September Down had never lost an All-Ireland final at Croke Park - five appearances in the decider spanning half-a-century had preceded that heartbreaking (0-16 to 0-15) setback and on each of those occasions the Sam Maguire Cup was captured in regal style.
Current Down boss James McCartan played a big part in two of those coups (19991 and ’94).
So when he leads the Mournemen back to Headquarters tomorrow to face Cork again he is naturally hoping that his county’s great tradition will weigh in his favour.
But McCartan is certainly taking nothing for granted, particularly after assessing the manner in which Cork performed against Kerry in the Munster final.
“Kerry maybe caught them on the hop in the first half but Cork came back very, very strongly and just ran out of time in the end. I think Kerry’s experience ultimately proved decisive but Cork showed they are still a very good, well-organised side,” reflects McCartan.
Down may have already claimed the scalps of Clare, Leitrim and Antrim in the qualifiers but McCartan believes that his side is still “stuttering a bit”.
Yet there are some positives. Danny Hughes is nearing full fitness following a hamstring injury, skipper Ambrose Rogers is on the brink of a return, Conor Laverty and Benny Coulter are on fire in attack and there is an enhanced level of experience in defence.
While all this serves to bolster optimism, he recognises that the game will prove a major examination of his team’s psyche. “We have been improving a wee bit with every outing lately but we need to take things to the next level tomorrow,” insists McCartan.
Cork manager Conor Counihan has confirmed his line-up with Fintan Goold taking the place of cruciate ligament injury victim Ciaran Sheehan.
Graham Canty is again selected at full-back even though he looked off the pace against Kerry while Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh again form a powerful midfield pairing, with Daniel Goulding, Donnacha O’Connor and Paul Kerrigan comprising a full-forward line that is imbued with potent scoring power.
Cork: A Quirke; J O’Sullivan, G Canty, M Shields; N O’Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O’Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P Kelly, P O’Neill; D Goulding, D O’Connor, P Kerrigan.