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Down have grounds to feel upbeat ahead of a new dawn

By John Campbell

The onset of a new era. That's what Down are craving as the curtain begins to come down on the 2014 inter-county championship season.

It's 20 years since the Ulster title has resided in Mourne territory and a series of false dawns have only served to heighten frustration and depression within what secretary Sean Og McAteer describes as "a proud football county."

While Down folk may derive considerable satisfaction from the past – five All-Ireland crowns won between 1960 and 1994 – they have been forced to exist on a starvation diet in terms of trophies for the past two decades.

Now as the final touches are being applied to putting a new man into the manager's role in place of James McCartan, a plea for unity and commitment has been made that has already reverberated throughout the county.

PRO Paul Rooney, one of a number of officials who have been working diligently to help sustain Down's status as a football stronghold despite the lack of silverware, makes it clear that there is a talent base within the county that could well bring long-awaited success.

"There is no doubt that there is plenty of talent in Down. Obviously it's a question of harnessing it and coming up with a winning formation. We have shown in recent years that we have not been all that far away," states Rooney.

With Caolan Mooney and perhaps Martin Clarke likely to be available to the new manager, Kalum King thought to be about to end his self-imposed exile and Benny Coulter prepared to commit for another year, there are grounds for optimism.

"Our club championship to date has provided some really cracking games and now we have two semi-finals that are on a par with anything that will be on offer in any other county," points out Rooney.

"I think there is a strong desire on the part of many young players to pull on the Down jersey."

In McCartan's first year in charge in 2010, Down reached the All-Ireland final in which they were narrowly beaten by Cork (0-16 to 0-15) but since then the side has failed to make significant championship headway.

County chairman Seamus Walsh puts progress under McCartan's baton in perspective: "We played on eight occasions in Croke Park while James was the manager and it's safe to say that no Down side had done this for many years."

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