McCartan can travel north with optimism
When Down rather surprisingly overcame Kildare (3-13 to 1-12) in the last scheduled round of games in Division One of the Allianz Football League, it was not enough to spare them from the ignominy of life in Division Two next term.
Yet the fact that such a significant victory was achieved without a generous measure of steel in his rearguard brought its own ration of encouragement for manager James McCartan.
But the Mourne boss is aware that his defensive resources on that occasion might not offer the required level of defiance against Derry in the forthcoming Ulster Championship quarter-final.
That's why he has a particular welcome on the mat for Aidan Carr and Conor Garvey as they nudge their way into the selection frame for a Celtic Park contest that has an allure all of its own.
Those of us privileged to have been onlookers when the teams served up a rare championship classic in 1994, which proved the precursor to Down's fifth All Ireland crown, still retain vivid memories of champagne football played against a backdrop of passion, tension and drama that was nothing short of spellbinding.
It is perhaps too much to expect an encore when the sides lock horns again on June 2 but the indications are McCartan's enriched resources will demand that their hosts should be at concert pitch to cope with the challenge they will offer.
Carr's cool authority at centre-half-back, a position that would not so long ago have been alien to him, and Garvey's flint-hard aggression can bring an added dimension to a defence which was pilloried for leaking three goals against Cork.
With Declan Rooney having been posted at right-half-back against Kildare on his return from injury, Down possess a player whose fiery commitment, penchant for drilling lengthy foot passes with considerable accuracy and ability to bolster the midfield if and when required who brings much to the table.
More than anything, though, McCartan (pictured) is seeking a sustained performance of high level quality.
"We played well in spasms in a number of league games including that particularly disappointing defeat to Cork but against Kildare we maintained our momentum for the whole game and this stood to us. It will take a repeat if we are to have any chance of beating Derry," insists McCartan.
Daniel Hughes continues his fitness fight, Ambrose Rogers is getting game time with his club Longstone and the hamstring tweak which Benny Coulter sustained against Kildare has responded to treatment.
He may yet be forced to embark on the championship without some of his most valuable assets but McCartan's team will not be travelling to the Maiden City cap in hand.