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All Ireland Football Championship: Stars of the county Down keep shining

By John Campbell

Down are not only within seventy minutes of landing the All Ireland title but several players are also in line for coveted Allstar awards following the team’s stirring championship campaign.

While James McCartan’s side has proven a vibrant unit, the consistency of a number of individuals has been such that they look certain to receive end-of-year gongs.

Irrespective of how the team performs in the All Ireland final against Cork on September 19, Martin Clarke, Benny Coulter and Danny Hughes already appear to have solid claims for Allstar honours although they will face stiff competition from leading players from other counties.

Clarke has been a revelation since returning to Down following his two-year period in Australian Rules football while Hughes and Coulter are currently playing some of the best football of their lengthy careers with their county team.

With players such as Bernard Brogan (Dublin), James Kavanagh (Kildare) and Paul Kerrigan (Cork) among those certain to be in the frame for Allstars, the selection panel will be confronted with a difficult task.

Down skipper Ambrose Rogers, who missed the semi-final win over Kildare on Sunday, could bolster his chances of becoming a nominee for an Allstar should he be declared fit to face Cork while Kalum King, who has made a huge impact since being drafted into the Mourne side by James McCartan earlier in the year, could also find himself in the running for an honour.

King (25) has wielded a big influence not only in the midfield area for Down but also as an auxiliary defender. In this respect, the manner in which he deflected the last-gasp free from Kildare substitute Robert Kelly onto the crossbar on Sunday last had much to do with Down securing their two-point victory.

Damian Rafferty has been the essence of consistency at left-full-back for Down throughout the championship and another five-star display against Cork could see him join the Allstar nominees.

Rafferty had been doubtful in advance of Down’s opening championship assignment against Donegal but not only did he declare himself fit at the eleventh hour but he emerged as one of the team’s outstanding players in their extra-time victory at Ballybofey.

Manager McCartan has already hailed his side’s arrival in the All Ireland final but has already rammed home the message that the players must keep their feet firmly on the ground between now and their confrontation with Cork on September 19.

“We cannot lose our focus at this juncture. Obviously we had something to celebrate on Sunday night but now it’s back to hard work again. We have further tightening up to do as we will now be meeting one of the biggest and fastest teams in the Championship,” points out McCartan.

And he has already told his players to ignore the manner in which Cork have achieved their recent results.

“People are saying that Cork have not been good but they are still in the All Ireland final. That says it all as far as we are concerned,” says McCartan.

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