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All Ireland Football Championship: Down boss demands true grit as well as guile

By John Campbell

Down manager James McCartan admits that his team must be prepared for “a huge physical challenge” against Cork on Sunday.

McCartan, aware that Cork’s recent below-par performances have persuaded many people that his own side will triumph, makes it clear that Conor Counihan’s side will offer a different challenge to anything they have encountered to date.

While Down were particularly impressive against Kerry and solid against Kildare, McCartan now feels that the clash with Cork will impose a different kind of pressure on his team.

McCartan said: “We have to think whether we want to try and break tackles or whether we should move the ball quickly on ever occasion. We are certainly going to have to challenge Cork’s physicality.

“By that I don’t mean that we will be going out to look for trouble.If Cork players come to hit our players with shoulder charges we must be able to stand up to this.” Obviously from our perspective we would be happy if it turned out to be an open, attacking game.

“I’m sure that Conor knows the strengths of his Cork team and he will want them to play a certain way to make the most of their attributes. The fact of the matter is that Cork are a strong physical side who are well able to mix it and we are just going to have to be able to survive whatever happens.”

Cork may have come under fire lately, with many critics suggesting that they had limped their way to the All-Ireland final, but McCartan insists that if they play to their full potential they will be in with a big chance of winning.

“Cork are actually in a good position in one way.

“They have it in them to be much better and the All-Ireland final could bring this out in them,” adds McCartan.

Counihan himself, having shipped criticism virtually throughout the All-Ireland series, is clearly anxious to see his side retain their focus despite their recent bad press.

“If you allowed yourself to get bogged down in all the side issues such as this being our third final in four years or that Down are unbeaten in their five finals to date you would maybe lose your focus altogether.

“I don’t bother reading newspapers but I am kept informed of certain things.

“Anyway, there is a lot of sensationalising done and some of the good stuff gets buried because of this,” states Counihan, who then offered his opinion that the press are being over-critical.

“To me this is a big issue. It’s certainly creeping into sport but I suppose it’s something that we have to live with now.

“The fact of the matter is that we are now facing a Down side that has been fulfiling its potential this year.”

Three days after Down won the All-Ireland final in 1994, Longford man John Devaney enrolled in Queen’s University, Belfast.

And having quickly immersed himself in the affairs of the university’s GAA club, he soon made the acquaintance of James McCartan.

Today not only is John — ‘Jack’ to all and sundry — the liaison officer for McCartan’s Down side but he is also one of the county’s delegates to the Ulster Council.

Few people have as much admiration for McCartan as Devaney who is also a Higher Education Council representative on Central Council at Croke Park.

Devaney said: “I just arrived at Queen’s as James was leaving but because the GAA club there has such a vibrant past members body, it was not long before I got to know him.

“I was impressed by him from the outset and he obviously has gone up further in my estimation because of the manner to which he has adapted to what is a very demanding position.”

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