James McCartan's Down exit exposes poverty of managerial succession
Down Chairman Seamus Walsh will immediately embark upon a hunt for a new county football manager, after James McCartan stepped down from the role last weekend.
As predicted in Saturday's Belfast Telegraph, McCartan brought an end to the second-longest managerial reign in football, when he informed the county board he would no longer continue for a sixth season. Only Tyrone's Mickey Harte of the current crop has enjoyed a longer reign.
In his first season, McCartan shocked the GAA world by taking Down back to an All-Ireland final, where they lost by a single point to Cork.
However, the seasons since were a measure of diminishing returns. He could be said to be an unlucky general in mitigation, with the loss of Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney who pursued professional contracts playing Australian Rules Football for Collingwood.
It's understood that this final season was testing for McCartan. An early Ulster exit at the hands of Tyrone was followed by Ryan and Jerome Johnston, along with their Kilcoo clubmate Paul Devlin, going on a holiday during the Championship season. Given that the Johnston brothers' father, Jerome senior, was a selector with McCartan's backroom team, it appeared an embarrassing situation.
Down went on to beat Leitrim handsomely at that time, but a collapse in the last quarter against Kildare brought an end to their All-Ireland campaign.
In a statement released on Saturday, James McCartan said: "I have informed the officers of the Down county GAA board of my decision to step down as manager of the county senior football team. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to hold the position since my appointment since 2009, just as it was to represent my county on the field of play.
"It was my intention to do my very best to bring Down back to the top and while we did not achieve the titles and silverware we craved, it was not for the want of trying."
It continued: "'We came very close to claiming the greatest prize in 2010 and there were plenty of good days. It was important for me to have a Down team playing regularly in Croke Park and 2014 was the only year which this did not happen.
"I have enjoyed the challenge but it is time for a new voice and I wish the next manager well. He and his players who wear the red and black will always have my support.
"I wish to thank all those who featured in the Down jersey in the past five seasons and the great people who were part of the Down management and backroom team. They made my job much easier and all the more worthwhile.
"I also want to thank the county board who gave me the offer of managing the county side, and were always supportive and courteous. The same applies to the clubs and supporters and all who followed us up and down the country for the past five years.
"Finally, I want to thank my family who have been very patient and encouraging."
Down county board Chairman Seamus Walsh added his thoughts, stating: "James McCartan gave as much in management as he gave as a player. His dedication over the past five years was outstanding. He led from the front and in doing so, brought his team back and the county back to an All-Ireland final and few expected it.
"He had an excellent working relationship with the team and the officers and I want to extend my gratitude for what he has done and how he has performed as a manager and an ambassador for the county.'
Naturally, there will be much speculation as to who will succeed McCartan. In recent weeks, it was suggested by former Down player and 2010 All-Star Danny Hughes that Tony McEntee, two-time All-Ireland club-winning manager of Crossmaglen Rangers, might be suitable for the post.
At present, McEntee is managing Dublin club side St Brigid's, but it is said he could favour a return to management closer to home.
Frank Dawson has enjoyed much success with Clonduff, Longstone, Burren and is currently manager of Bryansford, while Jim McCorry has worked wonders with a committed panel of players at Kilcoo Eoghan Ruadh over recent seasons. Both men have been in inter-county management with Antrim and Armagh respectively.
Another name that is bound to be brought up is that of Aidan O'Rourke, who had been involved as a selector with Down and Kildare, and recently stood down as manager with Louth.
What is noticeable about all the candidates listed is that there are no Down men among them, perhaps a reflection of the club scene of recent times, or even a statement of the ambition of the candidates that Down may opt for.
In any case, one could not envy the task that falls to Seamus Walsh.