Paddy Doherty predicts the end of title famine
One of the greatest forwards ever to emerge from Ulster celebrates his 80th birthday this year and is in no doubt just what would make the perfect present.
"An Ulster title or an All-Ireland title and maybe indeed both for Down would do nicely," smiles the legendary Paddy Doherty.
An iconic figure during Down's surge to prominence in the 1960's when they captured the Sam Maguire Cup on three occasions, Doherty now believes that the bulldog spirit which he sees in the current side can perhaps bring a termination to the county's 20-year Ulster title famine.
And he remains optimistic that an All-Ireland title, which was wrenched from their grasp by a hungrier Cork side in the 2010 decider, can be won sooner rather than later.
Doherty will be in the stand at Healy Park, Omagh tomorrow to exhort Down in their bid to overturn their role as underdogs and get the better of Tyrone in a preliminary round tie that will be the hottest show in town this weekend.
"I think there's a bulldog spirit in this Down side which could maybe take them places," observes Doherty. "I know that the team did not cover themselves in glory in the league but I have a notion that they will be fired up for the championship. They have boys in there that can give a lead in terms of getting the team going and I am looking forward to seeing that."
Doherty's phenomenal scoring feats in the 60's rocketed him into the national spotlight and he complemented his skills as a finisher by showing supreme leadership in 1961 when Down retained the biggest prize of all having triumphed under Kevin Mussen's captaincy the previous year.
And just when people thought that Down had taken their leave of the winners' rostrum after their two-year domination, they were back with a bang in 1968 to once again prove the ultimate masters.
Doherty recalls the towering spirit within the side, the marked stubborn streak and the fusion of skill and steel that proved so effective and now he is urging the present side to replicate these qualities tomorrow.
"I think there are players like Mark Poland, Kevin McKernan, Conor Maginn, Conor Garvey and others who can give a lead," said Doherty.
"You need boys like these in the heat of battle. You don't want to let the opposition boss you, you have to stand your ground. I want to see Down do that against Tyrone and show that they have the confidence and belief to play to the maximum of their ability."
The return, too, of the abrasive Declan Rooney to the Down defence, the inclusion of a rejuvenated Ambrose Rogers who has been in superb form at club level recently and the passionate zeal of veteran Benny Coulter to see the side finally come good all persuade Doherty that Down have considerable cause for optimism. Having played alongside the brilliant Sean O'Neill and the robust James McCartan snr in a potent forward division, Doherty knows all about the amalgam of qualities that are required for success.
"You need skill, style and steel. I think Down have that at the minute but it's how they respond to the tactical strategy that Tyrone will bring which will show what we are made of," raps Doherty.
"In the 2010 All-Ireland final we let an advantage slip and before we knew it Cork had got into the lead. You can't relax for a moment in a major championship game otherwise you will get punished. I just want to see the true Down spirit come to the surface tomorrow."