McCartan ready to forecast bright outlook
Down manager James McCartan has good reason for embarking on the All-Ireland football qualifiers route with considerable optimism.
The two-times All-Ireland winner watched his side stretch reigning All Ireland champions Donegal to the limit in Sunday's Ulster semi-final and has since digested the plaudits in relation to his side's courage, character and cohesion.
But while the Mournemen have acquired a richly-deserved fresh ration of respect after a Division One league campaign that ended in relegation, McCartan pinponts what he feels is a pre-requisite if the side is to reach the closing phase of the All Ireland championship.
"We have to show that we can take points from long range," insists McCartan.
"We did a lot of things right against Donegal but at the end of the day we were unable to convert chances from distance. In contrast Donegal's last four points came from something like fifty metres and this proved the winning of the game for them."
McCartan remains hopeful that he will get some game time from Danny Hughes and Aidan Carr in the second round of the qualifiers in which Down will be drawn to meet one of the winners of this weekend's first round games. And while he is prepared to front up to the qualifier route, McCartan does not mask his disappointment that his side are no longer in the hunt for the Anglo Celt Cup.
"We felt we had Donegal on the back foot but you would have to say that they took their chances and we didn't and paid the penalty," says McCartan.
Even though he will focus on the qualifiers with some reluctance, he can do so in the knowledge that his team's performance against Jim McGuinness's side has won them many admirers.
The challenge for Down now will be to build on this and McCartan is preparing once again to throw down the gauntlet to his players.
"Everybody looks for a good qualifier draw to get the momentum going. But I have said it before, if we get our 'A' game going, we can be a match for anybody, if we don't, we aren't," stresses McCartan.
In last year's Ulster final, Down stayed on Donegal's shoulder for the greater part of the contest before fading as the final quarter unfolded.
On Sunday, the reverse was the case, Down recovering from a shaky opening to exert constant pressure on their opponents right until the final whistle.
"We played for 55 minutes last time, it was the last 55 minutes this time. I think we were a bit tentative in the first 15, maybe that's natural coming from where we are coming from," muses McCartan.
"We thought that last year we opened them up, we felt that this year we could open them up. We took the game to the last ten or twelve minutes and the ball just didn't go to hand. That's what it seemed like along the touchline
"Last year we competed with Donegal as well as anybody and I would have to say that we did it again this time round albeit with a different style of football."