Down men on road to redemption
A year which to date has brought only frustration and disappointment for Down could yet provide a ration of comfort.
James McCartan’s team capitulated to Donegal in the Ulster final (2-18 to 0-13) before tamely surrendering to Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-finals (3-18 to 2-9) thus cementing the notion that defensive frailties and a suspect work ethic are indigenous within the county.
But on Sunday Down representatives will bid to capture the two most important trophies on offer in Ulster club football when Kilcoo confront Crossmaglen Rangers in the senior decider and Warrenpoint take on Cookstown in the intermediate final in what is a hugely attractive double bill at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
The matches are, with some justification, viewed as a redemptive mission in Down, a country which has been devoid of success in recent years.
Mourne county officials, anxious to see morale massaged as 2013 dawns, believe that any degree of success in the Ulster club finals could have important ramifications for the county team going forward.
“To have sides in both the senior and intermediate finals is a real boost for Down and the hope is now that they can win but obviously they face massive tasks — there is no point in saying otherwise,” states chairman Seamus Walsh.
“Still, it’s great to be in the hunt for these trophies.
“Kilcoo and Warrenpoint have worked very hard to get where they are and they deserve the support of everyone in the county in their efforts to become Ulster champions.”
Kilcoo, who have already beaten Ballybay and St Galls’ en route to the senior final, are rank outsiders against Crossmaglen Rangers in the eyes of most people but manager Jim McCorry feels this will prove an extra incentive for his team to reach a new peak in terms of performance.
Conor Laverty, Paul Devlin, Paul Greenan and Aidan Branagan are among the players who can help spur the team to glory.
“We are well used to being cast in the role of underdogs so we are not too worried,” insists McCorry.
“But we do know one thing — a repeat of our display against St Gall’s will not do against Crossmaglen. We will have to get up to another level if we want to win.”
And his Warrenpoint counterpart Conor Tinnelly, conscious that Cookstown have been installed as favourites to lift the intermediate crown, acknowledges that, just like Kilcoo, ‘must do better’ will be the mantra for Sunday.
“We were pushed by Aghagallon in the semi-final and we know that it will take a much bigger effort if we are to get the better of Cookstown,” says Tinnelly.
“They were All-Ireland champions a couple of years ago and have shown they know how to close out games.
“But we want to do our bit for Down pride and we will be giving it everything.”