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All Ireland Football Championship: Central figure Mark Poland earning Down captain Ambrose Rogers’ praise

When Down boss James McCartan gave a vote of confidence to Mark Poland in his attack during the course of the championship campaign no one questioned his judgement in the player's ability.

What did cause a few raised eyebrows though was the fact that Poland was slotted in at centrethreequarters — the position that many thought belonged exclusively to Martin Clarke.

But McCartan had other ideas for Clarke. The An Riocht clubman has been listed in recent team sheets at left-corner-forward but has in fact been fulfiling a roving commission with great success within the side.

So much so indeed that Down’s strategy has undergone something of an overhaul with Clarke now an effective link between defence and attack and Poland deploying his considerable skills as both a creator and finisher up front.

Poland’s unselfish approach has earned him praise from his colleagues. He plays alongside Down skipper Ambrose Rogers in the Longstone club side and no one is in a better position to assess his progress in the red and black jersey than Rogers himself.

“Mark has certainly made a big impact with Down. He has settled in well and is very clever on the ball,” insists Rogers.

Poland has scored 1-15 to date in the championship and with Clarke having helped himself to 1-24 it means that the Longstone duo have knocked up 2-39 between them.

It’s hardly surprising that manager McCartan now views Poland as one of his key players, particularly as he has been growing in confidence lately.

“Mark is one of a number of new guys who has come in this year and distinguished himself.

“He blends in well and his scoring ratio is good. He has the capacity to become even better and I believe that as he gains more experience in the side he will achieve this,” points out McCartan

A 25-year-old plasterer, Poland has made the transition from club to county football seamlessly and it was his stunning goal after just 55 seconds play that sent Down on the road to victory over fancied Kerry in the quarter-finals.

He tacked on two points and emerged as one of Down’s best players although he was outshone by the magnificent Clarke for the man of the match accolade on that occasion.

“Mark has been scoring from both open play and frees and that’s always an advantage to the team.

“But it really does not matter who gets the scores as long as the team functions smoothly as a unit — that’s the important thing,” insists McCartan.

Now Poland will get the chance to cement his growing reputation even further at Croke Park on Sunday — and he aims to take it in style.

Belfast Telegraph