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Down manager James McCartan urges players to take second chance against Tyrone

By John Campbell

It was a case of so near yet so far for Down boss James McCartan as his team came tantalisingly close to what would have been an improbable victory over Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.

After a spectacular second-half turnaround it was hardly surprising that the affable McCartan did not know whether to laugh or cry at the finish.

As the match entered injury-time, his team held a two-point advantage (3-8 to 2-9) and looked set for a semi-final clash with champions Monaghan, but a missed free by Donal O'Hare and a brace of late points – the last from a needlessly conceded free by Declan Rooney – from the ice-cool Sean Cavanagh ensured that Tyrone won the right to fight another day.

McCartan was philosophical, though, conscious that his side had entered the contest as underdogs.

"I would have taken a draw in advance of the game if I am honest," said McCartan.

"We are glad to be going back to Newry, a place where we don't get the chance to play too many championship matches. I would hope that the team will feed off the energy and drive of this second-half performance for that match.

"I thought the way we came back at Tyrone showed the spirit that is in this side."

His half-time changes, he revealed, were made with one purpose in mind.

"We wanted to get players on the field who are comfortable in carrying the ball in greasy conditions and they did that," said McCartan. "We wanted to adopt a certain style of play rather than rely on kick passes which were difficult to make in the conditions.

"After half-time we got our mojo working just at a point where Tyrone had seemingly been in a comfortable place."

And he admitted that hope sprung eternal after Down has responded so smartly to Darren McCurry's goal which appeared to have thrust Tyrone into an unassailable position.

"I think maybe the wee mice were moving about in Tyrone's heads after we got our goal – and I don't mean that in a flippant way," said McCartan.

"I just felt that an element of doubt might have overtaken them. I felt that we pushed on and maybe at one stage we looked like winning the game until that equaliser went over, but we're going back to Newry now and we have to be ready for this fresh challenge."

He is still left to ponder what he feels is one "strange" element in relation to the role that match officials perform.

"As managers, we are restricted to a certain area of the touchline which means that you cannot see things that go on at the far end of the pitch," pointed out McCartan.

"Obviously this is not ideal and there are things that happen close to the touchline that should be drawn to the attention of the linesman. However they tell me that they are not empowered to take any action in such circumstances which I find a little strange."

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