Kilcoo's success piles pressure on Down manager
Down manager James McCartan has already had his hand strengthened for 2014 – by an Armagh man.
Jim McCorry's feat in taking Kilcoo to three championship titles in five years has catapulted him up among the elite managers and now it's the Mourne county which stands to gain from potential spin-offs.
McCorry may be Armagh through and through – he formerly played for and managed the orchard county – but he is currently overseeing a fresh batch of talent that could make an impact in Down's colours next year.
With the build-up to Kilcoo's mouth-watering clash with Crossmaglen Rangers at Pairc Esler Newry on Sunday week having already captivated the sporting public, several of McCorry's talented playing corps will now come under forensic examination from county boss McCartan.
Conor Laverty and Darragh O'Hanlon are already first-choice players in the Down side, the former's wizardry a key element in the attack while the latter's durability normally helps to sustain the half-back division.
But now players like Paul Devlin and Jerome Johnston, who have already dipped their toe rather tentatively in the inter-county waters, look set to gain more regular recognition in the famed red and black jersey.
And Kilcoo's combative full-back Niall McEvoy along with the tenacious Brannigans, Niall and Aidan, have already shown that they possess the pace, work ethic and attitude to flourish at the higher level.
While Aidan Brannigan has a modicum of experience at the higher level, his brother and the lion-hearted McEvoy – reckoned to be one of the best defenders in Down on current form –have still to earn their county spurs.
This year manager McCartan found himself shorn of a raft of defensive experience through the unavailability of Conor Garvey, Niall McParland, Dan Gordon, Liam Doyle and Aidan Carr but hopes to remedy this situation next year.
Perhaps father time has, to some extent, taken its toll on Kilcoo's 35-year-old Anthony Devlin but any player who pockets three championship medals after the age of 30 deserves special recognition for longevity.
McCartan will take in the Kilcoo v Crossmaglen game conscious that the fixture has already spawned a fresh bout of football fever in a county which was plunged into depression following that shock All Ireland qualifier defeat to Derry.
This, too, after Down had lowered the Oak Leaf county's colours in the Ulster Championship before falling to Donegal in the provincial semi-final.
While McCartan could justifiably point to the absence of a tranche of players as a mitigating factor in his team's all-too-modest championship itinerary, Down fans may not be prepared to exercise the same degree of patience next year.
Niall Madine, Ryan Boyle and Ryan Mallon in particular have already provided a beacon of encouragement for the future while Connaire Harrison, Owen Costello and Shea McArdle are others who have shown they have qualities that perhaps can be deployed at the top table.
Kilcoo's progress to date has raised expectations that success at inter-county level should become more a probability than a possibility next term.
That, of course, will impose its own pressures on McCartan and his management team in the short-term future.
And those expectations will soar through the roof should Kilcoo boss McCorry outwit Joe Kernan when the two go head to head 10 days from now.