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Down v Sligo: Mourne boss McCartan wants his day in the sun

By Michael McGeary

James McCartan has already enjoyed a full and varied sporting life.

And somehow you feel there is still some more to come before he rides off into the sunset.

When you consider that his father, also James, is still regarded as one of the game’s all time greats, wee James — as he’s affectionately known — has had a lot to live up to.

But he has enjoyed success at virtually every level of the sport ranging from colleges to All Ireland glory.

A native of Tullylish, he won an All Ireland minor medal with Down in 1987 while still only 16.

His crowning glory arrived in 1991 and 1994 when the Mourne County captured the Sam Maguire, wee James walking away with the man of the match award in 1991 when Meath were put to the sword.

And yet for all his many varied achievements he admits to having many regrets, which speaks volumes for his competitive spirit.

The fact that he hated losing made him the supreme competitor.

When he found himself idle after Down were dumped out of the 1995 Ulster Championship by Donegal he grasped the opportunity to try his hand in the Irish League with Glenavon.

The Mourneview faithful still speak in glowing terms of his man of the match display in a European tie against Legia Warsaw.

“If I have any regrets it’s that I didn’t play soccer earlier, but as a boarder at St Colman’s College the opportunities to play soccer were very limited,” said McCartan.

“On reflection I’ve loads of regrets. St Colman’s won the Hogan Cup in 1986 and 1988 and yet the 1987 side was probably best of all!”

In his final year at college he was on the losing side, beaten |4-10 to 4-9, and yet typically he still managed to score three goals and a point in that 1987 final.

Down came up trumps in both the 1991 and 1994 All Ireland deciders and yet he yearns for the ones that got away.

He said: “In those days though there was no backdoor, no second chance.

“If you didn’t get your game right on the day you were gone for another 12 months.

“Sometimes you wonder how many All Irelands the current Tyrone side would have won had there been no back door.

“I’m not in any way trying to take away from their achieve

ments because they are an immense side.

“In 1996 we lost to Tyrone in the Ulster final and they then lost an All Ireland semi-final to a bigger and more physical Meath side.

“It’s possible we may have been better equipped to take Meath on, but the reality is that we didn’t earn the right to do that.”

Wee James concedes that in his last Ulster Championship outing in 2003, Tyrone made whipping boys of Down.

But in fairness this was the same Tyrone side that was en route to landing its first All Ireland senior title.

“Unless you are winning All Irelands year in and year out you are always going to have regrets,” he said.

Just now, McCartan’s life revolves around his family and man

aging the Down team.

It’s a tall order but it helps to have an understanding family with both sets of grandparents lending a helping hand.

“I’m fortunate to have good people around me at home and also my management team of Paddy Tally, Brian McIver and Jerome Johnston are excellent.

“It means you aren’t running around before training putting out cones.”

He continued: “It gives you a whole new perspective on life if you arrive home and a nappy needs changing and you don’t get any special treatment.

“It may appear a strange life for a county manager but that’s the reality.”

This afternoon he will travel on the team bus for the All Ireland qualifier against Sligo joking that if the ship is to go down he wants to be on it.

He said: “You want to be there if and when it happens, but hopefully that won’t be this year.

“The qualifiers are a great learning experience, but it’s also a very chastening experience.”

Belfast Telegraph

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