James McCartan may ultimately call all the shots as Down manager but his backroom team of Brian McIver, Paddy Tally and Jerome Johnston have come in for a glowing tribute from the players in the build-up to Sunday’s All Ireland semi-final against Kildare.
McCartan’s ‘team behind the team’ has been working overtime to ensure that no stone is left unturned in terms of preparation and the players in turn have been quick to acknowledge their input.
“We are very fortunate in having such a committed management team overall,” says skipper Ambrose Rogers, “Nothing is too much trouble for them and I like to think that all the players have been responding well to their demands on the training ground.”
McIver guided Ballinderry to the All Ireland Club title in 2002 while Tally was the Tyrone trainer when the county captured the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 2003.
Johnston has an intimate knowledge of Down club football and his input as an analyst and selector has been invaluable to date.
“These are great men we have behind us,” states Benny Coulter. “We would be training away when one of us might get called aside and given a few words of encouragement. Then it might be the turn of someone else a few minutes later. This gives you the desire to put even more into your training and maybe that’s one of the reasons why we are so fit just now.”
Tally, head of physical education at St Mary’s University College in west Belfast, is a renowned fitness guru and his imprimatur is very much in evidence in Down’s conditioning.
But the Galbally man, clearly relishing his role with the Mourne County, insists that the players are making his job easy because of their enthusiasm and commitment.
“I must say they are very easy to get along with and extremely responsive,” says Tally, “They are obviously very, very keen to see the Sam Maguire Cup come back to Down but they fully realise that they face an enormous job on Sunday against Kildare. We have watched Kildare improve steadily as the year has gone on and we know precisely what we will be up against both mentally and physically.”