All Ireland Football Championship: Cork could have last laugh, says Down boss McCartan
Down manager James McCartan believes that Cork are in “a great position” going into the All Ireland football final against his side on Sunday week even though they have been panned by the pundits for a series of unconvincing performances of late.
Whereas the Mourne county’s journey into the decider has been accompanied by a rather more discernible swagger of late, Cork have regularly diced with danger in booking their place in the showpiece encounter.
But McCartan insists that Cork manager Conor Counihan will actually use this as a motivational tool in his team’s build-up.
“In fact, I would suggest that Conor will be hoping that the media will continue to downplay his side right up until the day of the match.
“I see them as being in a great position because they have reached the biggest game of the year with the general perception being that they have produced nowhere near their best form so far,” maintains McCartan.
Cork only took the lead for the first time in the 68th minute in their semi-final victory over Dublin and against Roscommon the quarter-final they were forced to dig deep in the second-half to overcome the westerners.
Now McCartan is espousing the view that Cork have perhaps unwittingly provided themselves with the perfect opportunity to hit their best form.
“I honestly think that Cork are capable of much better and obviously they will be hoping to prove this against us.
“But we will just focus on our own game. We know what we have to do,” states McCartan.
Prior to the start of the All Ireland series Cork had been installed as favourites to lift the title and although Down’s stunning summer burst has taken them to within seventy minutes of what would be a sixth All Ireland crown the Leesiders have nonetheless acquired considerable experience having contested the last two finals in which they fell to Kerry by 0-16 to 1-9 last year and 3-14 to 2-13 in 2008.
“Cork have been there and know what it is all about whereas none of our players have taken part in an All Ireland final.
“You can be sure that Cork will be very anxious to win particularly as they won’t have to try to beat Kerry this time,” stresses the Mourne boss.
And he is adamant that Down’s five successful All Ireland final appearances to date will not weigh heavily on his players.
“I know people are saying that we might be under extra pressure but those five finals, two of which I was involved in myself, really have no relevance in terms of this decider. This group of players have got this far on merit and they know the enormity of the task they face,” asserts McCartan.
“I would rather win seven out of nine titles if this was to be the case but we will take six out of six if that happens. I said before that I would rather see Down get to more finals even if they were not to win them all because this would at least show that progress is being maintained.”
McCartan concedes that he did not envisage Down reaching the final even after they had won promotion to Division One of the National League earlier in the year.
“When the Ulster Championship started Tyrone might have been thinking of being in the All Ireland final but the rest of the Ulster counties were just focussed on the provincial title. We were beaten by Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final but after making a tentative start in the qualifiers we improved as we went along but we do not see ourselves as the finished article,” adds McCartan.
While he maintains he is “planning without” his skipper Ambrose Rogers at the moment he is nonetheless pleased that the Longstone clubman is further down the road in terms of his rehabilitation than had been expected at this juncture.
“We will continue to monitor things — obviously every manager likes to be able to deal from a full hand if possible particularly when it comes to an All Ireland final,” says McCartan.