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Down boss McCartan relishing Croker cracker

Down have been handed a massive incentive to replicate the stunning form they showed in this year’s All Ireland football championship at Croke Park now that their National Football League Division One tie against Dublin has been fixed for Headquarters.

James McCartan’s side may have suffered a blip when they were beaten by Armagh in the Division Two National League final at Croke earlier this year, but their subsequent return to what is now one of Europe’s premier sporting stadiums was marked by two of the stand-out performances of 2010 when they overcame Kerry (1-16 to 1-10) and Kildare (1-16 to 1-14) in the All Ireland quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.

Even in going down to Cork by the narrowest of margins in the All Ireland final (0-16 to 0-15), Down showed immense character in a pulsating showpiece fixture.

Now the Mournemen, poised to take their baptism in the demanding Division One arena, are already focussed on reproducing that Croke Park form that significantly underpinned their championship odyssey.

“To be playing Dublin in the National League in Croke Park is just perfect preparation for the Ulster Championship,” said county chairman Seamus Walsh.

“We are away to Armagh in that and I don’t have to tell anyone about the magnitude of this game.

“First we must focus on the National League — we don’t want to step up into the top bracket this term and then slip back down into Division Two next year again.”

The fact that Dublin will play all their home matches in the National League at Croke Park as opposed to the much more compact Parnell Park as has been the case in recent years.

Down have no fears about facing the challenges that the Dubs — and several other sides — will pose for them.

“We have no hang-ups at all about Croke Park — why would we?” added Walsh.

“It’s the venue at which all teams want to play, but you have to earn the right to be there. Our championship form this year was such that we got to play in some massive games and our players are not only anxious to get back to Croke Park, they want to bring home silverware this time round.”

While optimism abounds on the playing front in Down, the county was plunged into mourning this week following the untimely death of Imelda Hughes, mother of Quinn Insurance Ulster GAA Writers Association Footballer of the Year Danny Hughes.

Saval clubman Danny, who won a Vodafone Allstar award, was outstanding for Down throughout 2010, leaving an indelible personal imprint on the National League and Championship stages.

The sympathy of gaels everywhere is extended to Danny and his family on their bereavement.

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