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Down aren't crossing any lines in glory quest, says boss Burns

 

By Declan Bogue

Down manager Eamonn Burns has rejected talk of their 'anarchy and extremism' approach to this year's Ulster Championship.

In the wake of their semi-final victory against Monaghan, the Mournemen were praised by The Sunday Game pundit Joe Brolly, who took the step of highlighting a number of incidents involving Down players tackling and fouling their opponents in his summing up of the game.

Speaking at Down's press launch ahead of next Sunday's Ulster final against Tyrone, two-time All-Ireland winner Burns played down the suggestions that Down have found a harder edge than was thought before in turning around a 19-point defeat to Monaghan in last year's Championship to a two-point win.

He stated: "I think a lot of it is over-hyped. I'm not going to comment on the individuals but they were saying things that really weren't there.

"Our tactics are to play football at all times. Play it as hard as you want but as long as you play within the rules you'll stay on the field, and I've always emphasised that to the men that I have.

"Even when I was coaching juveniles at my club I always emphasised that."

The Bryansford man, who was selector under James McCartan for two seasons, insisted: "There are very few dark arts (to Down). We like to play football but we know you have to be tough at it too.

"A lot of it comes from their will to win the game. I don't think we've ever overstepped that mark in that respect."

The general praise, possibly coupled with surprise at Down's shock win over Monaghan, is something Burns is willing to embrace, believing that it echoes the finer traditions of football in the county.

Five previous All-Ireland titles are woven through the fabric of the county - Burns part of two of them as a midfielder - and he sees nothing wrong with tapping into that energy.

"You've often heard it said that Down have a certain way to play and we do," he said.

"I've made no bones about it that the defensive shield is not really something in our DNA and we find it very difficult to set it up, but we know if we are to make progress then we have to do it.

"We have to implement it but I wouldn't be giving them set rules as such. They're allowed to go out and express themselves. There is no shackle put on them but they know defensively they have to close the door and you have to keep the defence tight."

One of the facets of their play was the willingness to kick the ball long into Connaire Harrison, who treated the Athletic Grounds crowd to a spectacle with his tussle against Monaghan captain Drew Wylie, while Down tallied up 26 kick passes in towards the scoring zone.

Harrison was forced off late with an injury, but Burns insists he will be ready for the Ulster final.

"Connaire will be fine, yeah," he responded.

"It was at the bottom of his hamstring, but I think it wasn't his hamstring, it was more his thigh. I think he just got a kick on it."

Harrison did not gain much game time during the league, with the Shimna College teacher explaining: "He didn't play in the league because he picked up a couple of injuries and he came back out of an injury and then trained for a week, picked up another one and that laid him off for two months right at the end of the league.

"There were no issues with him other than injuries. He is a good, quality player and he can play in a variety of positions.

"His form in training was good and we pick on form."

However, definitely out of contention is Harrison's competition for the full-forward position, Barry O'Hagan, who sustained a shoulder injury playing for his club Clonduff against Kilcoo a few weeks ago.

"He is going to see a specialist tomorrow and he will definitely not be available for the final," said Burns.

Asked if he would be out for the rest of the season, he added: "He could be. We are waiting on reports, it could be rehab but it might require an operation.

"But he is going to see the specialist tomorrow in Dublin."

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