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Down boss McGrath bids to repeat success of ‘87

By John Campbell

Peter McGrath will be best remembered for bringing All Ireland senior football championship glory to Down in 1991 and 1994 when he oversaw one of the most memorable periods in the country’s sporting history.

Yet in 1987, McGrath himself had helped to lay the foundations for this double triumph by masterminding an All Ireland Minor title for the Mourne county. Several players from that team went on to achieve fame at senior county level.

Now this affable retired teacher who spent many years on the staff at St Colman’s College Newry is preparing to turn the clock back by striving to replicate that ’87 coup.

McGrath, who has been assisting Bryansford recently and who prior to that had been lending his expertise to Louth club Cooley Kickhams, is hoping to groom a new generation of stars who may be able to follow in the footsteps of Benny Coulter, Martin Clarke, Danny Hughes and the rest of James McCartan’s squad.

But although he has invariably brought the midas touch to his management career at inter-county level, McGrath is keeping an open mind as he ponders the challenges that lie ahead in 2011.

“I love working with players and I am delighted to be involved with a Down Minor squad again. The county has won a fair amount of trophies at schools level over the past number of years and I see this as an encouraging pointer towards possible success at the higher level,” says McGrath.

“But it is worth remembering that there have been big advances in the under-age sector in many counties and we will certainly have to work very hard if we are to make any headway.”

Down though could now again prove the beneficiaries of McGrath’s encyclopaedic knowledge of gaelic football as he limbers up for his fresh Minor mission.

He took the Down Under-21 into last year’s All Ireland football final when they were singularly unfortunate to lose to Cork, a late goal depriving them of victory.

And while he focuses on his new role with Down, John O’Brien, a player whose career he helped to mould with neighbouring Louth is one of three who will be emigrating to Australia next week, the others being Brian White and Mick Fanning.

John O’Brien was brought onto the Cooley Kickhams team by McGrath two years ago and having helped to hone the player’s talents, McGrath derived considerable satisfaction when he was selected for Louth.

O’Brien was outstanding in this year’s hugely controversial Leienster final which Louth lost by a point when Tyrone referee Martin Sludden allowed Joe Sheridan’s last-gasp goal for Meath to stand even though he had clearly thrown the ball into the net.

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