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Down veteran Poland is ready to answer his critics

By John Campbell

Published 28/01/2016

Up for the cup: Donegal’s Frank McGlynn and Down’s Mark Poland at the launch of the Allianz National League at Malone House in Belfast yesterday
Up for the cup: Donegal’s Frank McGlynn and Down’s Mark Poland at the launch of the Allianz National League at Malone House in Belfast yesterday

The anger has subsided, the agonising is over and finally self-respect has been restored.

For Down veteran Mark Poland Saturday's opening Allianz League Division One confrontation with Donegal at Pairc Esler, Newry will formally draw a veil over what has been one of the most traumatic periods in his sporting career.

The 30-year-old Longstone clubman, a fixture in the county team for the past decade, admits that a combination of circumstances almost led to his premature exit from top-flight football - and at a time too when new Down boss Eamonn Burns is crying out for experienced heads to steady the Mourne ship.

"The flak that followed our All-Ireland qualifier against Wexford really riled me, the level of begrudgery within the county was a source of grave disappointment, injury problems, my below-par form in the championship and the upheaval surrounding the departure of Jim McCorry and the appointment of the new manager all led to me thinking long and hard about my career," said Poland.

"I was forced to think outside the box and ask myself is it all worth it. But at the end of the day I am a passionate Down man and a passionate Longstone man and I would do anything even if it means sitting on the bench to help push younger lads on.

"Someone said to me that you are a long time retired and it was always the realisation of a dream for me to pull on the Down jersey. Now I think I have that chance again and I'm not going to walk away from it."

Poland, rather than let the grievous hurt he felt last year when Down followers vented their fury at the team's performances via social media get the better of him, is now determined to use this as motivation going into a league campaign for which he recognises his team are viewed in some quarters as potential relegation candidates.

"I have spoken with my wife Eimer and my family and I know what it means to them to see me pull on the Down jersey. I said then that I would give it another go. I suppose I'll keep doing this until I'm not wanted about the place," said Poland, a full-time GAA coaching officer.

But, with typical candour, he concedes that he will remain "very aware" of what he feels is a high level of begrudgery within the county.

"It's not something I was really conscious of until last year, to be honest," said Poland.

"I think that with the whole management merry-go-round scenario there was actually more in the papers about Down than about Fermanagh who were going well and getting ready to face Dublin.

"It was quite amusing, in fact, to see that sort of thing going on. I would be very aware, though, of the begrudgery that is prevalent," he added.

"We were tipped to go down into Division Three at the start of the league last year, but we won promotion to Division One.

"Maybe we can now prove a point to those who think we are destined for a quick exit from the top tier."

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but they maybe they don't know what is going on behind the scenes and sometimes it can be annoying to hear some of the views that are expressed. It does make me angry at times."

Yet while apprehension, uncertainty and indeed downright pessimism appear to have taken root within a county that has five All-Ireland titles to its credit, Poland is prepared to dwell on what he sees as the positives as Down prepare to flex their muscles against the aristocrats of the footballing world.

"There are good footballers in Down and there is always a special atmosphere when we play in Pairc Esler, especially in Saturday night games," said Poland.

"I think if the crowd - and indeed the players - put what happened last year out of their minds and everyone starts to sing from the same hymn sheet then you never know where that might take us.

"With teams like Donegal, Kerry and Dublin coming to us, what better challenges could you ask for. It's up to us as players to now show that we can really compete against these top players," Poland added.

Should Poland's approach be replicated by his colleagues, there is every chance that Down can achieve this goal.

Belfast Telegraph

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