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All Ireland Football Championship: Fitzpatrick happy to be man in the middle for Down against Kildare

Tomorrow will be a special day for Peter Fitzpatrick as last night he was named in Down’s team for their All Ireland football semi-final against Kildare in Croke Park.

The Ballymartin clubman will partner Kalum King in the middle of the field in the absence of captain Ambrose Rogers, who suffered a cruciate injury while playing for his club Longstone in the Down championship.

But Down fans will take heart from the fact that Rogers has been included in the squad for one of the most eagerly awaited All Ireland semi-finals in years.

Ideally Down manager James McCartan would love to get through the 70 minutes against the Lily Whites without having to call upon his inspiration captain so having him in tip top shape for an All Ireland showdown against Cork next month.

Also included in the Down squad is Ronan Murtagh who scored a goal and five points against Kerry in the quarter-final after being sprung from the bench in the second half.

Meanwhile the four members of the Down senior football panel who are full-time coaching officers — Benny Coulter, Ambrose Rogers, Martin Clarke and Conor Laverty — have just been hailed as “tremendous ambassadors” by county secretary Sean Og McAteer.

Even though the quartet are immersed in preparations for Sunday’s All Ireland semi-final against Kildare, they have been busily engaged in conducting coaching camps and supervising training sessions for schoolchildren throughout the county.

McAteer, anxious to pinpoint the level of pride that has been restored within Down now that the team has emerged from the doldrums, believes that the capture of the Sam Maguire Cup would be “the stuff of dreams”.

And while he is pleased to applaud the squad’s progress, he is even more delighted to stress that this, in his opinion, has been achieved “the Down way.”

“We have always prided ourselves on doing things right — the Down way as we see it,” insists McAteer. “We have put a big effort into our domestic fixtures and coaching structures over the course of recent years and we have seen the fruits of this labour.

“Now that the county team is making a real fist of trying to bring home the Sam Maguire Cup again we note the vital role being performed at grassroots level within the county by all those players who are coaching officers.”

And he goes on: “You could not buy the kind of rapport these players have with the kids. There is a renewed explosion of interest in gaelic football in Down that is just unbelievable.

“These players and of course the rest of the boys are tremendous ambassadors for Down both on and off the field.”

McAteer emphasises that a whole new generation of Down folk will now be in Croke Park on Sunday to see James McCartan’s side in action against Kieran McGeeney’s men tomorrow.

“My own son is 19 but he has never seen Down win a major Championship match there. He and many others like him will be there on Sunday and hopefully they will continue to follow Down for years to come,” said McAteer.

And while this year has contained several high points to date, he is keeping his fingers crossed that the best could be still to come.

“When we hosted the Annual Congress in such spectacular fashion earlier in the year at Newcastle everyone in Down grew two inches taller such was the sense of pride that this engendered,” smiles McAteer.

“Then they grew another two inches following that super quarter-final win over Kerry so now everyone is hoping to grow even further with pride if Kildare can be beaten on Sunday.”

With five All Ireland titles to their credit (1960, ’61, ’68, ’91, ’94), Down have established a healthy tradition in the showpiece competition — indeed they have never been beaten in an All Ireland senior final at Croke Park.

”I know people are commenting on this already but let’s take one step at a time. Kildare is the only team on our horizon at the moment – we are looking no further than Sunday,” observes McAteer cautiously.

DOWN: B McVeigh, D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty, D Rooney, K McKernan, C Garvey P Fitzpatrick, K King, D Hughes, M Poland, P McComiskey, B Coulter, J Clarke, M. Clarke.

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