Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

McCartan's laying of the foundations starts to bear fruit

Down manager James McCartan
Down manager James McCartan

It's probably not too much of a leap to say it, but since James McCartan took over as Down manager, he has had to contend with not only a decimated panel, but also with changing the footballing culture of an entire county.

Of course there was ample evidence of how Down have become a thoroughly-modern outfit throughout the league.

But when it comes to the headlining acts of the summer, the pressure to perform is always ramped up and the temptation to play from memory always there.

Last year in the Ulster final, the message was drilled home to Down that they can never revert to type with their traditional 'score one more than you' philosophy. Football is a much more technical beast nowadays.

In compiling Sigerson Cups with Queen's and Antrim Championships with St Gall's as a young coach, it was something James McCartan was already aware of. However, the personnel he had in his first year demanded an all-out attack approach.

Now that the likes of Paul McComiskey and Martin Clarke are no longer available he has had to be more pragmatic. But still it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

After conceding 1-10 in the opening half of football here, Down tightened up considerably to restrict Derry to five points after half-time.

McCartan admitted he was tempted to replace the entire full-back line.

"It entered our head," he said.

"It was much about the players who needed to come back and fill spaces and close doors, they were getting caught up the field and they weren't doing their job.

"As I say, we got that corrected at half-time to give ourselves a chance."

As for the Ulster semi-final meeting against Donegal, you won't find someone as accustomed to success as McCartan bowing down meekly to what many will feel is a foregone conclusion.

Referring to last year's Ulster final, McCartan said: "Maybe I am clinging on to positives but I felt for 55 minutes we opened them up as well as anyone in the country did but we didn't lock the door at the back. There is the conundrum."

After a season of winning league games and the league final, Brian McIver was alarmed by the way his defence was punctured.

"2-17 from our point of view is far, far too big a score to be giving away," the Derry boss said.

"Once the momentum of the game changed, we found it hard to get back into it.

"Our men who were doing damage in the first half found it hard to get into it."

Derry are heading for the qualifiers in little under a month's time, but McIver will keep the mood upbeat.

"If you look at that game, we weren't outplayed," he explained.

"For a large part of it I thought we were the better side.

"We can't buy the level of experience that Down have been getting over the past few years.

"The only thing we can do is to play at that level as often as possible and that's what we're hopefully in a position to do now."

Tonight the players will gather for a team meeting and revisit their immediate and long-term goals.

"We'll be back here Tuesday night again.

"Nobody feeling sorry for themselves and whatever route we have to take, we'll take it," finished McIver.

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