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Eamonn Burns cannot wait to tackle the big hitters

By Declan Bogue

Eamonn Burns will hardly have a moment to digest his first Dr McKenna Cup as the new Down manager before he is thrown into what might be the Mournemen's highest-ever profile league campaign in Division One.

His first National League game, against Donegal in Newry, comes on January 30.

As Dublin and Kerry reprise the 2015 All-Ireland final in Croke Park that night, it appears likely that the clash between the Ulster rivals will be the one featured in deferred coverage.

However, Down are also hosting both All-Ireland finalists in the coming months.

The fixture against Kerry is provisionally set for Sunday, February 28 while the clash with Dublin on Saturday, March 12 is sure to get the full bells and whistles of the Setanta TV treatment.

Burns acknowledged: "There is no time for sentiment. You have got to hit the ground running, you have got to be prepared.

"The All-Ireland champions are coming and Kerry are coming.

"There has always been a big rivalry between Down and Kerry over the years so they are two big ties.

"We are looking forward to them. We are under no illusions about the task in front of us."

Down won promotion last season under Jim McCorry despite losing a number of prominent veterans.

Some managers would be tempted to see that as a curse, but Burns is realistic enough to see what a campaign in the top flight means.

He said: "If you speak to managers who are taking teams and trying to push them forward and develop them, Division One is where you want to be.

"You really know where you are in terms of preparation for the Championship.

"I am looking forward to it. I know it is going to be tough, but it would be great if Down were still in Division One at the end of the league."

As a player under Pete McGrath, Burns won two All-Irelands, but he also winces when a style of football known as 'the Down way' is brought up in conversation.

He is keenly aware of McGrath's preference of converting defenders into forwards, for example.

Burns advises some pragmatism. He continued: "The way the game has evolved, it's built largely around the defence. You work from there, that's your starting position. It would have registered with us that you need your defensive systems in place.

"That team that I played on, it was ingrained in you and you liked to move the ball quickly, get the ball forward and play with flair.

"However, at the same time, you must make sure that the back door is closed."

And he is not in the business of making any rash predictions of targeting an Ulster title in his first season, given that they have to travel to Clones for Burns' first taste of the Ulster Championship as manager, against reigning champions Monaghan.

"I think it would be very naive to say now that our target is an Ulster title. We will be facing a very seasoned campaigner in the Ulster Championship first round. They have had lots of experience in Croke Park over the last number of years," he added.

"We would like to play as far into the summer as we possibly can.

"The direct route would be great, which would mean you could encompass an Ulster crown. But if it means you are on the road, then you are on the road."

Belfast Telegraph

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