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All Ireland Football Championship: Down's spirit of ’91 has been rekindled, says Colm McAlarney

Colm McAlarney has the distinction of being the only player to win Railway Cup medals in three different decades.

But nothing should surprise you about the Castlewellan teacher who actually made his Down debut in 1966 while still a minor.

Times were much different then and the minor and senior football championships weren’t played on the same afternoon as they are now.

But all those years ago McAlarney, one of the finest and most sporting players to ever wear the county colours played in the 1966 minor final and then came on as a sub in the second half of the senior decider.

He’s as enthusiastic about the sport today as he was in his playing days and he’s thrilled to see the famous red and black colours back in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.

“It’s been an amazing run that has taken the whole county by surprise,” he said.

“It’s something you could never have imagined earlier in the year.

“There are many similarities between this team and the team of 1991.

“They too began slowly, but never looked back after beating Derry in a replay.”

It’s often said that goals win matches and Colm, an All Star in both 1975 and 1978, doesn’t disagree.

And he makes the point that Down, more than any other side, always seem to move into overdrive once they raise the green flag.

“It’s almost as if the goal gives them an unbelievable shot of oxygen,” he added. “It was there for all to see the early goal against Kerry in the quarter-final and then Benny Coulter’s goal against Kildare when we were struggling.”

What pleases McAlarney more than anything else is that his county is again playing with a swagger that was once its trademark.

In addition this resurgent Down side no longer depends on one or two players for its scores.

Sure you have marquee forwards like Benny Coulter and Martin Clarke, but you even have half backs and midfielders getting in on the act.

And the Castlewellan stalwart agrees that the Down resurgence hasn’t been an overnight success.

“When you look through the squad there are a number of players who have already enjoyed success at both colleges and under age level,” he said.

“The return of Martin Clarke from Australia has been a massive boost.

“It’s amazing that a young man of 22 can provide such leadership and inspiration.”

McAlarney, a former pupil of Red High in Downpatrick, is delighted that former puplils Kalum King, Dan Gordon and Conor Maginn are all making waves with the current Down side.

But more than anything else he’s thrilled for Benny Coulter, a man he rates as right up there with any of Down’s best ever forwards — high praise indeed.

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