Ulster Championship: Increased pressure motivates McCartan
Down may have finished as the highest-ranked Ulster side in the National Football League, but manager James McCartan is refusing to relax as he focuses on next month’s Ulster Championship showdown with Armagh.
Rather than dwell on wins over Galway, Armagh and Monaghan and a draw against Mayo, McCartan is preoccupied with absorbing the lessons learned in defeats to Dublin, Cork and Kerry.
And he is keeping his fingers crossed that the injuries which disrupted his side for most of the league will clear up before the Ulster series gets under way.
His team may have reached last year’s All Ireland final when they were unfortunate to lose by a point to Cork (0-16 to 0-15), but McCartan does not believe that this offers them a head start for the forthcoming Championship.
“Obviously we were very disappointed to lose to Dublin, Cork and Kerry in the league,” he said.
“These are the sides against which you must gauge yourself so it is obvious that we still have work to do. We may have reached the All Ireland final last year, but that guarantees us nothing except more pressure.”
At one stage during the league he had no fewer than five defenders injured meaning he was forced to reconstruct his rearguard.
Yet this was to prove something of a blessing in disguise as he received confirmation that he now has adequate defensive cover.
“We were forced to make changes and now we at least know that we have options at our disposal,” says McCartan.
Goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh is recovering from injury and expects to be available to face Armagh while Daniel McCartan is fit again after a hand injury and Damien Rafferty, just back after a lengthy lay-off, came through last Sunday’s game against Kerry unscathed.
With some 10 players vying for the six positions in attack, the Down boss is almost spoiled for choice, but that is not quite the position in relation to midfield.
James McColgan stepped into the breach when injury ruled Peter Fitzpatrick out against Kerry but, McCartan was then forced to move Dan Gordon up from full-back to bolster the central area.
And the fact that Kalum King was withdrawn after incurring a yellow card did not help Down in the closing stages.
“The boys put in a big effort against Kerry but our aim now is to try and be at full strength for the Championship if we can manage it,” insists McCartan.
There is still the possibility that long-term injury victim Ambrose Rogers may play some part in the initial stages of the championship.