Down ready for promotion assault
Down manager James McCartan finds himself with an embarrassment of forward riches and additional midfield options as his team prepares to step up its pursuit of a place in Division One of the National Football League.
With a fistful of players sharing in the 1-16 his side racked up against Kildare at the weekend and several substitutes now pressing strongly for starting places against Meath on Saturday at Pairc Esler, Newry, McCartan is mulling over his selection posers while county board officials in turn expect to host their biggest-ever crowd for a floodlit game at the venue.
“Obviously there is tremendous interest in the county at the moment — football fever is back. At the same time, we have to recognise that the team are facing into a very difficult programme in Division Two and we all have to keep our feet on the ground.
But it’s great to see so many people getting behind the side and if the weather is in any way favourable on Saturday we anticipate a huge crowd,” says Down secretary Sean Og McAteer.
Ronan Sexton, Ronan Murtagh and Conor Laverty were just three of the squad who were unable to force their way into the side for the win over Kildare while the arrival of second-half midfield replacements Peter Fitzpatrick and Paul Greenan underlined McCartan’s depth of cover in the vital engine-room sector.
While the performance of newcomer Calum King alongside Ambrose Rodgers against the vastly experienced Dermot Earley and Darryl Flynn against Kildare has been hailed enthusiastically by Down fans, manager McCartan stresses that Meath invariably are strong at midfield.
“Our forwards cannot do much without the ball so it’s essential that we maintain our momentum at midfield,” said McCartan. “It’s encouraging that we have people in there pressing for places.”
With Liam Doyle expected to return to the Mourne panel shortly following his cruciate ligament injury and players such as Aidan Carr and Declan Rooney on standby for defensive duty, Down appear to have the resources to meet the demands of their itinerary.
But while putting scores on the board is a priority, McCartan is slowly but surely instilling in his side the absolute necessity for putting pressure on the opposition ball-carrier throughout games.
“In essence, I want my players to defend as a team.
“Positions don’t matter when it comes to trying to dispossess and disrupt the other side.”