Play it again Sam as Down is bitten by All-Ireland bug
The countdown has begun. With less than three weeks to go until Down battles it out for Gaelic football’s ultimate prize, excitement in the county is building.
It has been 16 years since the Mournemen lifted the Sam Maguire and thanks to a thrilling win over Kildare at the weekend the All-Ireland title is now within reach once more.
In Downpatrick, the heart of Co Down, support for the side has led to an almost carnival atmosphere. Flags bedeck cars and houses and bunting hangs in just about every street.
Down District Council chairman Colin McGrath, who has been a Down fan all his life, said there was an overwhelming sense of pride in the town.
“Downpatrick has been absolutely awash with red and black,” he said last night. “It has been wonderful.
“I think if you could have bottled adrenaline yesterday you would have made a fortune.
“There is an overwhelming sense of pride that the team have got this far and people are just so pleased it’s their county that’s going to be in the final.
“The two things that I have noticed in the past 24 hours is the number of flags attached to cars. Nearly every third or fourth car is bedecked in the Down colours. And also a lot of streets have put up bunting. There is definitely a carnival atmosphere here at the moment and that is only going to increase as the weeks go on.”
And does he believe the boys can beat rivals Cork?
“Of course they can, there’s no question of it. They got there and now they will succeed and the Mournemen will be the champions once again. It’s long overdue and I have every faith in the team.”
In Newry the atmosphere is much the same with fans still celebrating Down’s nail-biting win on Sunday.
Newry and Mourne mayor Mick McCarthy, who was at the match, said he expected everyone would get behind the side when they take on Cork at Croke Park on September 19.
“Oh indeed they will,” he said. “It will be Down’s first All-Ireland since 1994.”
And he thinks Down can take the cup home.
He said: “We don’t want to be over-confident now but we have the players and if they do perform on the day it’ll be a wonderful victory, more so because it will be 50 years after the cup first made the journey into the six counties.”
UTV presenter Frank Mitchell, who “lives, sleeps and eats Down”, also believes they can do it.
But he has one worry — a clash of colours, as both counties wear red.
He said: “I think they can do it, but I have one slight concern and that is the jerseys. There is a distinct possibility that Down will have to wear the yellow jersey which is the colour of Ulster, whereas the Cork team will probably wear blue, which is the colour of the GAA in Munster.
“You don’t have the famous red and black then playing in the final — that is the psychological disadvantage.
“In fact, I will lead a campaign to have a change of strip. Down should have a black shirt with red strip instead of the yellow and Cork could wear white with a red strip.”
Down have also received support from Sports Minister Nelson McCausland.
The DUP MLA, who attended his first Gaelic match last year, said he hoped the team was successful in its bid to bring home the Sam Maguire trophy, although he will not be watching the match himself.
He said: “I won’t be watching the game because I don’t watch sporting events on Sunday.
“I have said already in relation to the semi-final, if a team from Northern Ireland is playing against a team from the Irish Republic, then naturally I would hope that the team from Northern Ireland would win.
“I hope that the team from Northern Ireland are successful.”
One person who will be watching the match on September 19 is Downpatrick woman Elaine Cunningham.
And the 33-year-old auditor is hoping that she will be able to get her hands on a few final tickets.
She said: “I am so hoping I can get tickets for the final. They are always tough to come by.
“I was actually at the semi-final. The atmosphere was electric.
“I was really glad that I got there. Fingers crossed I will be able to get tickets again.
“It’s just so nice to be proud of your county again. It’s been 16 years since the last time they made a final.
“I definitely think they can do it. Nobody had much belief in them in the beginning but they have improved so much and with players like Martin Clarke and Benny Coulter, they are going to be tough to beat.
“If they do win there will definitely be a party atmosphere across the whole of Down.”