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Down on mission to hit the big time

By John Campbell

Down manager James McCartan is nothing if not a realist.

His team may have reached the All-Ireland final in 2010 and are currently in the reckoning for a place in the Allianz Football League semi-finals but McCartan fervently believes in calling a spade a spade.

“Look, we haven’t won anything, that’s the bottom line. Down fans want to see silverware coming along and we are going to have to work very hard to deliver any,” insists McCartan.

He takes his side to Laois on Sunday knowing that victory would assure them of a place in the last four along with Kerry, who are already through, and perhaps Cork and Dublin although Mayo cannot be ruled out at this juncture.

“If we win on Sunday it will mean that we will get another competitive game before the Ulster championship and we will happily take that. But we are very focused on Laois right now, they are never easy to deal with on their own ground,” maintains McCartan.

His reign has spanned three years to date but league and championship success have continued to prove elusive.

Down last won the Ulster title in 1994, the year in which they also last reigned as All-Ireland champions. The county has to go back to 1983 for its last National League crown.

It’s this protracted trophy famine that continues to gnaw at the very fabric of Down football and persuades McCartan that ending it will be far from straightforward.

But there are optimistic signs that Down, a county which boasts a proud GAA history, could yet become reacquainted with success.

Ambrose Rogers, Daniel Hughes, Dan Gordon, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter, Kevin McKernan, Aidan Carr and Brendan McVeigh form the backbone of the side that will face Laois and their combined experience can help to thrust the Mourne outfit back into the limelight.

Long-serving goalkeeper McVeigh believes that victory over Laois will further bolster confidence.

“We have maybe encountered a few blips along the way in the league to date but we had serious injury problems in the earlier stages of the competition. We are getting people back on board now and that’s encouraging,” says McVeigh.

“We will cross our bridges as we come to them and Laois is the only side on our minds at the moment.”

County chairman Seamus Walsh stresses that several players have lifted their individual games appreciably this year. “There are a number of players who were given their chance because others were out injured and now that some have come back there is a better balance to the side,” said Walsh. “We know we have some way to go but the team is making marked progress, there is no doubt about that.

“To get into the semi-final would be a big boost for this county and would give us at least one more decent game before the championship. That would surely prove of invaluable help to our management. I would hope that as many Down fans as possible will travel to Portlaoise on Sunday to get behind the side.

“My hope is that they will have plenty to cheer about there and that a semi-final place will become a reality.”

Belfast Telegraph

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