All Ireland: Down boss James McCartan to draw on experience for semi-final
Down manager James McCartan will inform his players tonight of the rigorous training routine that has been drawn up in advance of the All Ireland Football Championship semi-final against Kildare at Croke Park on August 29.
McCartan, himself an All Ireland winner with Down in 1991 and 1994, will draw on his own experiences from these years to facilitate his county’s build-up to a match that has already captivated the entire GAA fraternity.
In the semi-final McCartan will now be pitting his wits against another All Ireland winner, Kieran McGeeney who skippered Armagh to their 2002 triumph and who has masterminded Kildare’s progress into the last four having taken the Lily Whites into the quarter-finals in each of the past two years.
But while football fever sweeps Down, McCartan insists that his players’ feet will remain firmly on the ground.
“People are saying that we are only one match away from the All Ireland final, but that match represents a massive hurdle for us. They are making the point too that Down have never lost an All Ireland final but you have to get there first before you can begin to talk like that,” raps McCartan.
“When you look at the way in which Kildare beat Meath on Sunday in what was their sixth match in as many weeks you get all the confirmation you need that they will be very difficult opponents at Croke Park.
“They are showing great energy and scoring power, important assets to take into an All Ireland semi-final.”
In what was a particularly arduous qualifier campaign Kildare beat Antrim after a replay and then recorded victories over Leitrim, Derry and Monaghan prior to their superb quarter-final performance against Meath on Sunday when they conceded 1-3 in the opening minutes before settling into their now familiar scoring rhythm in clinching an impressive 2-17 to 1-12 win.
Down though have been no less impressive through the qualifier route in accounting for Longford, Offaly and Sligo.
McGeeney, who spent 15 years serving Armagh as a player and is regarded as an iconic figure within the Orchard County, acknowledges that Down will represent the biggest hurdle Kildare will face to date this year.
“Down boast a great tradition in Croke Park and this will stand to them,” says McGeeney.
“From our own viewpoint we have come through the qualifiers and I suppose we have got a bit of consistency going.
“We have been learning about ourselves along the way and we are now a better team for that, but this game against Down will now take us to a new level.”
Kildare’s only defeat this summer came at the hands of Louth in the Leinster Championship and even then they hit 1-16 in that game the ‘Wee County’ scored 1-22 to claim victory.
“Very often a score like 1-16 would be more than enough to win any team a championship game, but the fact that our defence conceded too much that day proved fatal,” admits McGeeney.
And he adds: “We have tightened up at the back and our counter-attacking has improved, too.
“We have acquired a degree of confidence, but we know that Down’s win over Kerry will have given them even further encouragement and they will be very fired up for this semi-final.”
McGeeney though has a concern about his midfield ace Dermot Earley who limped out of the action in the third minute against Meath with a damaged ankle.
“We will have to wait for a full medical report and take things from there. Obviously the hope is that Dermot will be available to face Down,” says McGeeney.