Kilcoo boss Paul McIver can see quality emerging in Down
A concerted drive to restore credibility within Down football is gathering momentum - and that's before a new county team boss has been appointed.
Confirmation that Damien Barton has succeeded Brian McIver in Derry and Mickey Harte's re-appointment in Tyrone have sparked renewed fervour within the Mourne County to see progress made on and off the field.
While the county board, under the chairmanship of Sean Rooney, are immersed in plans to make Sunday's Kilcoo v Castlewellan Senior Championship final a gala affair, a sense of urgency prevails as efforts are made to bring the county out of the doldrums.
The county board are expected to step up efforts next week to name the successor to recently-departed manager Jim McCorry, the man who guided Kilcoo to four senior football titles and who left his role as county team boss under a cloud.
Former Down player Conor Deegan is still understood to be among the frontrunners with his ex-All-Ireland winning colleague Mickey Linden also mentioned as a potential member of the management team, while current Mayobridge manager Michael Walsh is in the running for the job of county minor team boss after Shane Mulholland's exit.
Paul McIver, who will be managing Kilcoo in a Down final for the first time, believes the resources are there.
McIver took over from McCorry at the club and as well as being impressed with the attitude and skill of his own squad, he is adamant that there is a body of players in Down capable of bringing the county into the limelight.
"Football is thriving in Down at club level," insisted McIver. "I can only go on what I have seen but this year I have observed a lot of very good footballers in Down. I had never heard of a lot of these guys but they have impressed me.
"They may not be part of the county senior panel as things stand but they are there and doing the business. This should give great optimism for the future.
"I believe that the talent is there to make significant headway."
While Kilcoo have been the major force in Down football, they have been unable to win the Ulster Club Championship but McIver is not prepared to look beyond Sunday's clash with Castlewellan.
"We will take things one step at a time. Teams like Omagh St Enda's and Clontibret have been stripped of their titles so we will just give it everything," he added.
Down spokesman Paul Rooney pulls no punches in his assessment of what is viewed as a trophy drought within the county.
"We have been playing second fiddle to other Ulster counties of late and they have been moving on. First it was Tyrone and Armagh that dominated matters and then in more recent years Donegal and Monaghan have been proving their worth," pointed out Rooney.
"We have not won an Ulster title since 1994 but the frustrating thing is that there is a strong feeling within the county that we have quality players here.
"We got to the All-Ireland final in 2010 and people within the county feel that Down are capable of making a pitch for success if the right manager is put in charge."