Legendary Down forward Paddy Doherty, whose superb scoring exploits underpinned the county’s 1960 and ’61 All Ireland football triumphs, believes it is time that the Sam Maguire Cup returned to Mourne territory.
But Doherty, who turned his back on a full-time soccer career with Lincoln City to subsequently emerge as a Down icon, now suggests that the current squad should be further “beefed up” if the quest for glory is to gain further momentum.
“While James McCartan’s team have done well so far this year, we must remind ourselves that it’s still early days. And while I see much to admire in the side, I am of the opinion that more physical presence is required,” suggests Doherty.
“When we won those titles in the 60s we had big men forming the central spine of our team and this was again the case when Peter McGrath brought the county more All Ireland success in 1991 and ’94. I think there’s scope within the present side for a couple of physically imposing guys — the modern game appears to demand this.”
Down will resume their push for promotion from Division Two of the National Football League when they travel to face Tipperary on Saturday having already claimed the scalps of Kildare and Meath and victory this weekend would thrust them into the frame as serious contenders for a slot in the top bracket.
And while Doherty, who was a Belfast Telegraph Sports Hall of Fame award-winner a few years ago, admires the fluency and work-rate of McCartan’s revitalised side, he stresses that the biggest challenges lie ahead.
“Obviously we would be very happy to take promotion in the league but we must face Donegal in the Ulster Championship opener and that will be a huge test for this Down side,” he said.
Last year, a Cork side reputedly the most physically imposing outfit to participate in the All Ireland Championship for many years won the Munster title and reached the All Ireland final which was won by a huge Kerry team. “The Armagh and Tyrone teams that have won All Ireland titles included a lot of big men, players who could look after themselves.
“While skill is paramount, any side with realistic ambitions of success today must also possess physical power,” he says.
Just two weeks ago he joined the other Down heroes of ’60 and ’61 on a sentimental journey to Croke Park to mark the 50th anniversary of their first All Ireland title triumph. They were hosted there by GAA President Christy Cooney and Doherty recalls with a smile the facilities that pertained at Headquarters then compared to now.
“It’s all very different these days of course. But we had bigger crowds, you know. There were 90,000 people at our finals and the atmosphere was simply electric. It’s great, though, to see the modern amenities and the emphasis on spectator comforts. Times have changed for the better and now the hope is that the current Down side can write their own success story,” says Doherty.