Down legends to embark on new adventure
James McCartan and Paddy O’Rourke shared in many exhilarating triumphs as members of the Down side that remained a dominant force at All Ireland and Ulster levels in the early 90s.
Their rich haul of honours testify to glittering playing careers with O’Rourke not only skippering Down to their All Ireland coup in 1991 but playing a key role in Burren’s All Ireland Club title successes in 1986 and 1988 as a durable centre-half-back.
His earthy virtues were complemented by McCartan’s exquisite ball-playing skills and scoring finesse up front in Down’s colours and while the duo can justifiably bask in their contributions to a golden period in their county’s history, today they again find themselves united in pursuit of a sporting goal though against rather different backdrops.
They will make their managerial debuts in the National Football League at the weekend with O’Rourke first to sample action when he oversees Armagh’s bid to claim an early boost at the expense of Meath in Navan on Saturday night while McCartan will come up against his former playing adversary Kieran McGeeney when Down confront Kildare at Newbridge on Sunday.
And the former Mourne heroes actually find themselves confronted by markedly similar posers as they prepare for what O’Rourke refers to as “the higher intensity of the league.”
While he himself is still without last season’s skipper Ciaran McKeever from his starting line-up, McCartan must continue to exercise patience as he awaits the return of former Down captain Liam Doyle whose lengthy rehabilitation following a cruciate ligament injury is nearing completion.
When it comes to making their midfield selections, O’Rourke and McCartan are not necessarily spoiled for choice. O’Rourke gave the nod to Charlie Vernon and James Lavery for his team’s third round game against Fermanagh in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup while McCartan can again avail of the combined skills of Dan Gordon and Ambrose Rogers.
But McCartan can steal a march on former playing colleague O’Rourke when it comes to the availability of forwards.
Not only has the return of Martin Clarke from Australian Rules Football injected a fresh dimension of verve into the Down attack but it has led to a renaissance for his brother John.