Carr’s case for the defence against Armagh
There is one statistic that is undoubtedly a source of concern to Down boss Ross Carr as he brings his side to concert pitch for Sunday's Ulster senior football championship semi-final against Armagh at Clones (4.00).
And that is the 2-29 which the Mournemen have conceded in their two jousts with Tyrone in the championship to date.
It was in the drawn game at Healy Park, Omagh that Down conceded both goals, but although they guarded their net efficiently in the replay, the concession of 0-21 £ even though the game went to extra-time £ is still a worry, according to the meticulous Carr.
During their charge into the promotion frame in Division Three of the recent National League £ they were eventually eased out by Fermanagh and Wexford £ Down's defence erred on the side of generosity rather too often to negate any degree of comfort engendered from their high scoring attack.
Now they must go in against an Armagh rearguard noted for its steely resolve and man-marking skills.
Down manager Carr acknowledges that defensive resilience will be a prerequisite if victory is to be obtained.
"I suppose you could say that we have been outscoring our opponents for the most part but we know that we will need to erect the barriers against Armagh. They showed against Cavan that they have a lot more left in the tank and we certainly cannot afford to give them time and space," says Carr.
Daniel McCartan filled the breach in the Mourne defence for the replay against Tyrone created by Martin Cole's supension and is expected to wear the No 3 shirt again on Sunday, while Luke Howard has matured rapidly at right-full-back with Aidan Carr and Damien Rafferty uncompromising at wing-back.
The 20-year-old Howard played a big part in thwarting Tyrone's bid to salvage the game in extra-time and looks as if he could scale a higher peak against Armagh.
Carr, who in the past has been Down's playmaker at centrethreequarters, is currently proving a revelation at wing-back while on the other flank Rafferty's industry and courage have lent a fresh dimension to the rearguard.
Their primary aim on Sunday will be to shackle the Armagh twin spearhead of Ronan Clarke and Steven McDonnell £ no easy task, as Carr himself admits, particularly after the performance the duo gave against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park.
"They are two of the best forwards in the country with a proven track record. They showed against Cavan what they are capable of and unless we reveal maximum concentration, we could be in trouble," warns Carr.
Down's progress to date has been underscored by realism £ Carr is adamant that his players should keep their feet on the ground.
"Let's be honest, we have not covered ourselves in glory in the Championship of late so there is ground to be made up. Having said that, we appear to have built up a bit of momentum and now we want to take it to the next level against Armagh," states Carr.
His side won't lack support in their efforts to reach the final. Thousands of Down fans have already purchased tickets and plan to give their local heroes a huge vocal lift.
County chairman Kevin Bell says: "It's encouraging to see the red and black colours so pronounced everywhere. This will undoubtedly prove a spur to the players who have shown great commitment so far."