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United front helped Down conquer the odds: Burns

 

By John Campbell

When Down manager Eamonn Burns made a silent vow that it is better to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, he perhaps unwittingly signalled a vibrant renaissance in his county's fortunes.

No stranger to adversity since taking over the reins from Jim McCorry, Burns has faced down criticism directed at both himself and his team with a dignified acceptance.

It was when a trickle of players from his squad morphed into something approaching a flow that Burns came under rather more pressure, but even then his finger remained somewhat removed from the panic button.

Now, however, the former All-Ireland winner will begin the task of preparing the blueprint for his team's Ulster final date with Tyrone in the knowledge that he is in command of a more united squad than ever, and that they will go into battle with the backing of the entire county.

If Burns is excited by this dramatic turn of events, then he is certainly not proclaiming it from the rooftops.

Instead, he is quick to point out that in the recent past he found himself in a situation to which many of his managerial colleagues are no strangers and now believes that the players who have soldiered faithfully in the trenches should be afforded the plaudits for the team's unexpected revival.

Yet only recently Paul Devlin, Damien Turley and Alan Davidson, players who would walk onto most county teams, were among the latest to turn their back on the Mourne side - and still Burns remained calm and collected.

"We lost both relatively new and experienced players who walked away for different reasons, but they were genuine reasons which I appreciated," reflected Burns. "Players have family and work commitments and I respect that.

"I thought if I could blend what we have we would have a chance of doing something. We are taking small steps and we will see where this takes us."

So far it has taken Down into an Ulster final, reinvigorated the county and persuaded players on the fringe of the squad to keep faith with their manager in the hope that they might get the opportunity to strut their stuff.

A former Australian Rules competitor, a rookie defender, a relative novice midfielder and a forward who had not played an important game in the best part of two years have all been instrumental in bringing Down out of the wilderness.

Caolan Mooney has never regretted his decision to call time on his Rules career Down Under, Niall McParland is thriving in his role in the rearguard, Niall Donnelly won the all-important penalty that proved so central to Saturday's win over Monaghan and Donal O'Hare pilfered the last score of the game in the only 20-minute spell of county football he has had this year - you couldn't make it up.

In an era of precise planning, convoluted tactics, off-field razzmatazz and slick marketing, Burns prefers to get on with his job in a quiet, almost reticent yet highly efficient manner.

"Down is a proud county and I think this pride was reflected in that win over Monaghan," mused Burns. "We knew we were going to be pushed to the wire but when we were on the ball we used it well and took our scores confidently. Honesty of effort is one fact of our team."

Burns is keeping his fingers crossed that injuries and unavailability don't blight his plans - he has endured plenty of this since taking on the job, after all.

"We will lay our plans accordingly, keep strongly focused and hope that we get a few breaks. It's great to be in an Ulster final with players who are truly committed to the Down cause, that's what we want," added Burns.

Belfast Telegraph

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