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McCartan has Down looking up

Down 1-13 Armagh 1-6

For over a decade now, Down have been consigned to the bridesmaid’s role in Ulster football, a team imbued with attractive qualities but unable to steal the spotlight on a big day.

James McCartan, though, is slowly but surely orchestrating a significant amendment to the status quo. Since taking over as manager, the word defeat has all but disappeared from the Mourne sporting dictionary although former All Ireland winner McCartan is the first to reiterate his county’s current watchword: “It’s early days yet.”

But if they match or indeed better the heatwave of excitement, fervour and obvious pride that accompanied the team’s clinical demolition of neighbours Armagh at the weekend then ample confirmation will be provided that a new era has definitely arrived.

Unbeaten in Division Two of the National League and rapidly acquiring the conviction and confidence necessary to complement their other obvious qualities, Down have already offered considerable evidence that they will not look out of place in Division One.

McCartan, however, believes that formidable hurdles, psychological and otherwise, loom on the horizon.

“There are still two matches to go in the league and anything can happen. While it’s very nice to have got a win over our old enemy, Armagh, it’s still only two points. Maybe another win would make sure we go up but we won’t be counting our chickens,” said McCartan.

And he acknowledged that the absence of Charlie Vernon, Ronan Clarke and Kevin Dyas from the Armagh starting line-up had helped his side.

“Maybe things fell into place for us on this occasion but we know that there are big mountains to be climbed as the year goes on,” added McCartan.

Given that fellow-strugglers Laois and Westmeath are next in line to bear the brunt of Down’s attacking armoury it is reasonable to assume they will not deny McCartan promotion in his first term in charge.

“We know we have good footballers but we are aware too that people are questioning whether we have the size and physicality that matters,” says McCartan. “We believe that we now have a bit of steel about ourselves but this is not the time of the year for proving that.”

With 10 minutes gone at Parc Esler, his side were 1-5 to 0-0 ahead, Benny Coulter’s second minute goal highlighting a full-frontal assault on their visitors and it was only after Steven McDonnell tucked away an 11th minute penalty that Armagh began to offer a ration of defiance. But when defiance morphed into recklessness, Finian Moriar

ty was red-carded before the break, Ciaran McKeever was withdrawn shortly afterwards and Armagh’s limited resistance petered out, much to the frustration of manager Paddy O’Rourke with McDonnell once again their prime sources of scores his 1-3 preventing a defeat from becoming a humiliation. “That 1-5 at the start and the sending off of Moriarty left us too much to do. I was very disappointed with the manner of our defeat.” said O’Rourke.

Even with Martin Clarke having limped out of the action, Down remained firmly in control with skipper Ambrose Rogers firing over three points from midfield, John Clarke terrorising the Armagh defence, Mark Poland responding superbly to his eleventh-hour inclusion in the side for the unavailable Paul McComiskey and the ageless Benny Coulter his craft and guile.

Armagh managed just two points in the second-half as Down coasted to victory.

DOWN: Alder, McCartan, McArdle, Rafferty, McKernan, Colgan, Garvey, Rogers (0-3), King, Hughes (0-1), M Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free), Kearney, Poland (0-3, 0-2 frees), J Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free), Coulter (1-1). Subs: Maginn (0-1 for M Clarke 21 mins), Laverty (for J Clarke 47), Brannigan (for McKernan 60), McGovern (for Kearney 64), Murtagh (for Poland 64).

ARMAGH: McEvoy, Mallon, Donaghy, Duffy, Kernan, McKeever, Moriarty (0-1), Austin, Toner, Feeney, A Kernan, Swift (0-2), Henderson, McDonnell (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free), Forker. Subs: Vernon (for Henderson 20 mins), Mackin (for Forker, half-time), Ferris (for McKeever 41), McNamee (for Austin 56), Kernan (for Feeney 61).

Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).

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A link with the Down team that won the All Ireland senior football championship title in 1960 in 1961 has been severed with the passing at his Galway home of Patsy O’Hagan.

The Hilltown man, who won a Down Junior Championship medal with Cabra in 1956 before the club merged with Clonduff Shamrocks to form the Clonduff club which is thriving today, proved a major influence in the Mourne county side.

He played at full-forward in 1960 and turned out at right-half-back in the 1961 team. His commitment, skill and courage highlighted his contribution to a team that carved its name with pride in the annals of Ulster GAA.

Belfast Telegraph

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