Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Down boss McCartan banking on a good trip

For some people Bank Holidays are an opportunity for rest and relaxation, weather permitting.

Down footballers though have a novel way of spending such holidays as this weekend James McCartan’s squad will play three challenge games in as many days.

First up it’s Cork tomorrow followed by Kildare on Monday morning with Meath providing the opposition on Monday afternoon, a game that marks the official opening of Oldcastle’s superb new facilities.

It’s an ideal opportunity for the Mourne men to bury the disappointment of losing the Allianz League Division Two final to Armagh in Croke Park.

Down will announce their championship squad next week and manager McCartan will be glad of the opportunity to run his eye over potential candidates.

‘Wee James’ readily concedes that he’s never been involved in such a demanding weekend.

“I’ve never tried it before and, who knows, I might never try it again, but when we made our plans for such a weekend we never anticipated being in a league final the week before,” said McCartan.

“We were disappointed at losing that match, but there’s no danger of us throwing the baby out with the bath water.

“The side that played against Armagh was the same team that got us to the final.

“We played well in other league games, but we wouldn’t be satisfied with our overall display against Armagh.”

Don’t expect there to be wholesale changes when Down come to play Donegal in the Ulster championship next month in Ballybofey, but the whole point of a weekend like this is to offer fringe players the chance to impress.

The men who will pull on a Down jersey in the championship will be there on merit — not reputation alone.

Losing to Armagh was not something Down had contemplated, but perhaps it may bring a much needed dose of realism to the Mourne county.

This current side is very much a work in progress and in sport there are no guarantees.

Finding themselves in arrears against Armagh was a new scenario for the men in red and black and the response wasn’t quite what was required.

McCartan, as honest as the day is long, offers no excuses.

“There were things we did against Armagh that we weren’t happy with, especially when we fell behind and we have to learn to play a certain way, regardless of whether we’re ahead or behind,” said McCartan.

The appearance of Dan Gordon in a Down jersey was a welcome boost, but Ambrose Rodgers is still a major doubt for that championship clash with Donegal while Damian Rafferty, Kieran McGovern and Luke Howard are all striving to be ready for a game that could define Down’s season.

There is still continuing doubt over the fitness of corner back Daniel McCartan, red carded against Armagh. He was banned for eight weeks, but Down will appeal in the hope of having him available to face Donegal.

Reflecting on how one defeat can dramatically change a team’s season, McCartan added: “For a while it was almost going too well for us. I try to learn from others mistakes — this week I’m hoping to learn from my own.

“Now a combination of injuries and a defeat is making me look in the mirror for grey hairs!”

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