When Down gained promotion to NFL Division One before surging into the All Ireland final last year, James McCartan and Paddy Tally were inseparable on the touchline as they pooled their technical and motivational skills, in tandem with those of Brian McIver and Jerome Johnston, to script one of the most exciting chapters in the county’s sporting history.
But when the Mournemen launch their 2011 campaign on Saturday, McCartan and Tally will find themselves in opposite corners.
While McCartan will avail of the opportunity to run his eye over fringe talent, Tally will be in charge of the St Mary’s University side that will seek to land an early Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup bonus at the expense of the beaten All Ireland finalists.
McCartan is stripped of the services of several experienced players including Daniel McCartan, Dan Gordon, Ambrose Rogers and perhaps Daniel Hughes for the Pairc Esler, Newry confrontation while Tally will rely on a platoon of eager young guns to set down an early marker.
Seven years ago Tally trained the Tyrone side that won the All Ireland title for the first time and since then he has enhanced his reputation as a leading fitness guru.
It was after becoming part of the Down management last year that he gained further kudos yet this will not deflect him from trying to ensure that his enthusiastic St Mary’s squad makes an impact in the first competition of the year.
“We will be putting out an essentially young side but the boys are very keen. Since the university sides were admitted to the Dr McKenna Cup a few years ago they have added another dimension to the competition.
“The players can gain invaluable experience and I am hopeful that we will do well,” says Tally who hails from Galbally near Pomeroy.
And while Tally will be looking for encouraging signs against the county that he hopes can now go all the way to significant silverware this year, new Fermanagh manager John O’Neill will take his competitive baptism when his side meet UUJ at Enniskillen on Saturday night.