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The only way is up for Down

By John Campbell

A major review of Down football is being undertaken in a bid to recapture the provincial and All-Ireland success that the county enjoyed in the past.

A special committee appointed by the county board is in the process of completing a root and branch assessment of the sport as efforts are intensified to restore Down's status as a footballing power.

A draft report is expected to be submitted to the county board early in 2014 which will contain recommendations aimed at further improving structures within the county and highlighting issues that need to be tackled if major silverware is to be annexed.

County chairman Seamus Walsh is a driving force behind the initiative and believes that the detailed consultative process could potentially bring long-term benefits for a county that has been starved of glory for two decades.

Down last won the Ulster title in 1994 before going on to win their fifth All-Ireland crown that year but since then they have wallowed in the shadow of Tyrone, Armagh and Donegal all of whom have claimed provincial and All-Ireland glory.

"Obviously there is frustration in Down that we have not been able to get our hands on any of the major trophies but it is certainly not all gloom and doom," maintains Walsh.

"We reached the All-Ireland final three years ago when we were only beaten by a point by Cork and since then several good players have come through and there is cause for optimism.

"But this optimism has to be tinged with reality. The fact of the matter is that the bar has been raised for every county now when you look at the standards that teams such as Mayo and Dublin have set this year.

"No county can be seen to be dragging its heels and we are doing everything possible to try and get ourselves up among the top guns."

Current players, past players, club officials, managers and others in the county are being asked for their views as part of the consultative process.

It is known that a number of Down's more experienced players such as Brendan Coulter, Danny Hughes, Brendan McVeigh, Liam Doyle and Aidan Carr among others have views on how things should be taken forward and the board acknowledges that their input could be crucial.

Most of these players have served Down well for the past decade without getting their hands on medals of any significance.

"There is no doubt that Down boasts many talented individual players. As a team, though, we have not been able to make a real impact although you would have to say that since James McCartan took over there has been headway made," states Walsh.

"We have played on eight occasions in Croke Park in the past few years and that's something that could not have been said of Down sides from earlier years.

"I am acutely aware that Down followers have suffered false dawns. They have continued to come out and support the team and we are very grateful for that.

"Now the challenge is to give them something to cheer about."

Down looked to be on the verge of creating an upset in the Ulster championship this year when they stayed on Donegal's shoulder for the greater part of their semi-final before spurned scoring opportunities cost them dearly.

They then surprisingly lost to Derry in the All-Ireland qualifiers having beaten Brian McIver's side at Celtic Park in the Ulster championship quarter-final.

"Defeats like these to Donegal and Derry can be particularly hard to take especially when you know that the side is capable of better. James McCartan has been doing a fine job and we are delighted that he is continuing in his role," states Walsh.

"We want to ensure that he gets every possible help in striving to bring Down up in the world. This is a job that gets no easier and there are those who are saying that Dublin will remain at the top of the tree for some years now.

"But similar predictions have been made about other sides that achieved a similar degree of success in the past. We would hope that the findings of our review will prove beneficial and will lead to better days ahead."

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