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Saturday night is alright for McCartan

By John Campbell

Down manager James McCartan has given a resounding vote of confidence to Saturday night games in the National Football League — and it’s not just because his side remain unbeaten to date in Division Two.

McCartan, who has overseen a spirited Mourne county renaissance since taking over the reins from Ross Carr, believes that officials, players and fans are responding much more positively to Saturday night games and his views are substantiated by the huge interest shown at the week-end when upwards of 7,000 fans flocked to Pairc Esler, Newry to see Down beat Meath.

“You would have to say that floodlit games on Saturday evenings, particularly when the weather is tolerable, hold their own appeal. Players are then freed up to spend Sundays with their families and friends and that’s something they appreciate.

“When you consider that for Sunday games visiting teams might have to spend the greater part of the day travelling or in some cases book overnight hotel accommodation on the Saturday night and then arrive home very late on Sunday, having to get up early on Monday for work or studies, this really underlines the practical value of Saturday night games,” maintains McCartan.

Yet when Down travelled to Newbridge on Sunday week last to beat Kildare, they had considerable support but there is now a clear mission to make Pairc Esler an impregnable Saturday night fortress.

Indeed, Down fans firmly believe the best is yet to come in terms of Saturday night fever as their team pursues its frenetic quest for a place in Division One.

On March 6 McCartan’s men will host struggling Tipperary under lights in Newry and after facing hitherto unbeaten Donegal in Ballybofey a week later, they will then take on neighbours and arch rivals Armagh on March 20 in a match which will have Pairc Esler bulging at the seams.

But McCartan, while clearly relishing the progress made to date, is treading cautiously as he oversees the emergence of a team that is acquiring enhanced status with every outing.

“I would agree that we are playing well but it’s very early days. Maybe the most pleasing aspect is that we have a lot of quality players on our replacements bench who are just itching for action but you can only field 15 players in any given game,” muses the Mourne county boss.

The fact that McCartan and Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke played together in the Down side that landed All Ireland titles in 1991 and ’94 adds considerable spice to what will be their first managerial showdown.

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