Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

James McCartan reflects as Down decide on whether to stick or twist

Down manager James McCartan
Down Selector Aidan O'Rourke

It's one of those curious assignments in the wake of a Championship defeat. After the defeated manager is asked to explain how his team were knocked out, somebody will ask the question.

It can come sugar-coated with a vague query about 'the future', but it all means the same. Are you going to be there next year?

James McCartan has been on the end of these questions for the last two seasons.

"These crazy questions that you are asked in the aftermath of a game ... " he ruefully reflected on Saturday.

"It's difficult. I might give an answer now that you might regret later. These things are dealt with later on and there's no point me guessing what that's going to be."

It was vague, but a lot less downbeat than last year in the pressroom of Croke Park after an All-Ireland quarter-final 12-point defeat to Mayo.

Back then, he had more to say.

"It's not a decision for now. Today is certainly a hard pill to swallow, but I have a group of players who gave me their all for three years, we had some good days on the road, some bad days on the road.

"All I can say is that they have give me their best and we try to give them the format and the possibility of going out and performing on the big stages.

"We've come up short but it certainly hasn't been for lack of trying on the players' behalf and they certainly have my thanks ringing in their ears for the last three years."

If that sounded like the beginning of a long goodbye, many were surprised that McCartan remained in the job for a fourth term this year.

For those that feel now that Down need something different, it is not as simple as that.

Those administering the game at the top levels of Down are happy with McCartan and they can legitimately point to an astonishing absentee and injury list to illustrate how he has been forced to work with a weaker hand than he should.

In terms of freshness, he has never been afraid to roll the dice either.

Knowing that Down needed to get up to speed with the more sophisticated defensive systems, he refreshed the backroom in time for 2012. Out went Brian McIver and Paddy Tally, in came Aidan O'Rourke (pictured).

Cynics may sneer at that development, given that Down conceded 4-12, 3-18 and 2-22 in one calendar year in meetings against Cork, but as Kevin McKernan commented a few short weeks ago about O'Rourke's impact, "Aidan O'Rourke was good last year ... probably did take us to a new level without us realising.

"He improved defensive things, maybe it didn't work, but it was getting that mindset into Down players that we needed to change."

This season, Dr Niall Moyna came along, perhaps headhunted with the problem of Donegal in mind.

Another roll of the dice that almost paid off.

In Down, there aren't many credible alternatives for the post of manager right now.

The team of the 90's has almost run dry of candidates and those revisiting Pete McGrath as a candidate may be put off by an underwhelming spell in charge of the county minors.

Time for Down to stick or twist. They might be better sticking.

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