All Ireland Football Semi Final: Down boss McCartan calls for a rapid start to Kil-dare
Down manager James McCartan makes it clear that he intends to drive home one particularly vital message to his players in the build-up to Sunday week’s All Ireland football semi-final against Kildare — and that is the absolute necessity for total concentration throughout the contest.
McCartan sees one of his most important duties as being to ensure his side remain focused on their game plan and retain their discipline in the white heat of what promises to be an enthralling encounter.
In most of their National League games earlier in the year and in their championship matches in particular against Donegal, Tyrone, Sligo and Kerry, Down started at whirlwind pace before allowing Donegal and Tyrone in particular to take control for spells — in the case of the Red Hands, with disastrous consequences.
In contrast, Kildare have been notoriously slow starters but their capacity to build up to a crescendo was vividly highlighted in the qualifier replay victory over Antrim, their annihilation of Derry at Celtic Park, their clinical destruction of Meath and their mastery of Monaghan.
McCartan, well aware of the imposing physique, seemingly boundless stamina and sharp scoring edge that Kieran McGeeney’s men will bring to the Croke Park table, will warn his players to keep their guard up from first whistle until the last.
“It’s imperative that we get off to a good start and it’s even more essential that we maintain the pace and tone that we set,” insists McCartan.
“We simply cannot afford to allow Kildare to come back — if we manage to get ahead that is — and then take command of the game the way they have been doing lately.
“The fact that Kildare have not only been winning but have been totting up huge scores will have given them confidence and they have been regular visitors to Croke Park over this past couple of years which will help them as well.”
In that shock win over Kerry in the quarter-finals, Down had 1-3 on the board in the opening ten minutes before the Kingdom were even out of the traps and by half-time McCartan’s men led by 1-7 to 0-4 with each team landing similar totals (1-6 to 0-9) in the second-half, the Mourne county’s first-half cushion ultimately proving the key to success. But McCartan stresses that Kildare will not be particularly fazed should they find themselves in arrears at an early stage in the proceedings.
“They have shown great mental strength in applying themselves to the job in hand,” points out McCartan.
“They have quality players all over the park — they don’t just rely on a few so-called big names.”
In overcoming Monaghan in their last outing, McGeeney’s side again underlined the strength on their bench when Ronan Sweeney and Eamon Callaghan came on with the former grabbing the goal that proved so vital to his team’s victory.
“Kildare have big, strongly-built players in most positions. There is a tremendous work ethic throughout the side,” observes McCartan.
Along with McGeeney, the Down boss shares a midfield worry — his surrounds the fitness of Ambrose Rogers while the former’s centre on the well-being of Dermot Earley.
Ironically, if passed fit, the two players, who have been in such magnificent form for their respective sides to date, would go head -to-head in an individual dual which may well determine the outcome of the game but McCartan shares McGeeney’s caution in assessing his own players’ prospects of making the cut.
“We can only hope that in the coming days the ligament injury that Ambrose sustained against Kerry will show improvement. We are in the lap of the gods,” says McCartan — a sentiment that is endorsed from his own perspective by Armagh 2002 All Ireland winning skipper McGeeney.