Belfast Telegraph

In Pictures: Thousands of Down fans head to Croke Park

By Catherine Lynagh

Half a century after they first won the All Ireland, Down is once again bathed in red and black.

“This is their year” was the consensus yesterday as the Mourne men prepare to do battle in the All-Ireland football semi-final against Kildare at Croke Park tomorrow.

From Downpatrick to Warrenpoint the county colours were strung from bars in support of the team.

More than 40,000 Down supporters are expected to make the journey to Dublin for the big game.

The county is, as one Down woman put it, “on a high”.

Mary and Francis Coulter’s Mayobridge home is adorned in crystal glass trophies won by their son, Down player Benny Coulter.

Mother of eight Mary is anxious about the game.

“He has been playing on the team for 10 years. He’s feeling all right but I am very, very nervous,” she said.

“The local support has been brilliant. His whole family will be down supporting him.”

In Castlewellan, bar owner Marie Mullholand said: “I am from Armagh and although I’m supporting Down all the way, if they win my customers are making me wear a Down shirt until the final.

“This is the first time I have seen the team play this way — the excitement around them is fantastic. I think they have it to go all the way, 50 years after they first won it,” said Marie.

Kathryn Handley from London, who recently moved to Castlewellan, said the atmosphere around the game is phenomenal. “I moved over in January to be close to friends in Castlewellan,” she said.

“I only started supporting the game when I moved here. I now think it is brilliant. I’m really loving the sport, it is much better than rugby or football.

“It is so fast. The atmosphere in the pubs when the games are on is amazing. The flags are everywhere. I will be wearing all black with a nice big red rose on to show my support.”

Tommy Smith from Downpatrick was in Croke Park the last time Down lifted the Sam Maguire in 1994 and thinks he will witness it again this year. “It’s absolutely brilliant that they have got this far. I go down every year to the final in Croke Park. It is a different atmosphere down there altogether,” he said.

Gerard McEvoy, who plays for Kilcoo GAA, is confident for a win on Sunday. “Down are a bunch of very confident players. If they get off to a good start I believe they could do well. If their forwards get going they would be very hard to top,” he said.

Fintan McCartan hasn’t decided where he is going to watch the match yet, but believes he will be the only person left in Downpatrick.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “Everybody is going, I think I’m the only one not going. There is great excitement about the town. The whole of Down will be empty because there are busloads of people leaving from every wee place.”

Paul McCartan, owner of a sports shop in Downpatrick, is travelling down to the game with 18 family members.

He said: “I am quietly confident we will get the result we want. It is very exciting supporting this team because this is our biggest game since 1994. It has made quite a big difference in these difficult times, thank goodness. We are selling lots of flags and jerseys, the momentum is brilliant.”

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