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Down manager James McCartan: Don’t fall for all the hype


Down boss James McCartan

Down boss James McCartan

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Down boss James McCartan

Even before he took up the reins as Down manager James McCartan confessed to experiencing feelings of bewilderment and amusement as he listened to and read about assessments of his county’s prospects in the Ulster and All-Ireland football championships.

Down may not yet have taken possession of silverware under his capable baton, but if there was a trophy on offer for honesty then McCartan himself would surely stake a strong claim for it.

“For some reason the naivety of the nation is such that they always think Down are going to do something even though we have achieved absolutely zero for the past 20 years,” insists McCartan.

His observation may not rank highly as motivational rhetoric but it certainly represents a challenge to his players as they prepare to face Armagh tomorrow night in a match that many expect will parachute the championship overall onto a higher plateau.

Nor are McCartan and his players in the least beguiled by their flattering media coverage.

“The media appears to be very good at building us up but we know that when this happens there is a carpet underneath us that can be pulled away very quickly,” says McCartan.

Yet in spite of an Ulster title famine spanning almost two decades, and the fact that they face an Armagh outfit who have been collecting provincial crowns almost at will since 1999, Down have been installed as firm favourites to triumph at the Morgan Athletic Grounds.

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Their impressive surge through the Qualifiers to reach last year’s All-Ireland final, the anticipated presence of four Allstars in their side and their adventurous approach give rise to the conviction that trophy glory is on the horizon.

But McCartan, anxious to temper what could be construed as rampant optimism, stresses the point that his side came up short against some of the bigger teams in the National League. And at the same time he lays emphasis on the manner in which they coped last year in games which they were not expected to win.

“Look, we were not supposed to win against Sligo, Kerry or Kildare but we managed to come out on top. The tag of favourites has not sat well with Down in the past,” says McCartan.

“We know we are in a chasing pack in the hunt for silverware — there are a lot of teams in that pack including several from Ulster,” asserts the Down boss.

Armagh, he believes, are one such side and McCartan is in no doubt as to what it will take for his side to come out on top.

“To win an Ulster championship you have to get down and dirty. There is no harder place to go in Ulster than the Morgan Athletic Grounds,” raps McCartan.

Recent statistics, though, might suggest otherwise. Since the start of the year Armagh have lost to St Mary’s, Antrim, Dublin, Kerry and Galway at their refurbished headquarters yet McCartan believes this indifferent form could prove a motivational tool for them.

“The biggest incentive any side can be given is to try and put something right. You can be sure that Armagh will be trying their very best to do this tomorrow night. Every negative in the past can be turned into a positive,” adds McCartan pointedly.

To do that, though, the orchard county will have to counter the threat of Kalum King at midfield, the artistry of Martin Clarke, the sheer dynamism of Danny Hugh

es and the stubbornness of the Down rearguard in which Dan Gordon and Kevin McKernan will form the central spine.

If Armagh have lacked consistency this year, then they are not short on quality in defence where Paul Hearty, Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Aaron Kernan portray pace

and power while Ciaran Toner is still a formidable force at midfield with Steven McDonnell and Jamie Clarke forming one of the country’s deadliest strike forces.

This being the case, McCartan’s stark appraisal of his opponents further sets the tone for this local derby.

“There are no gimmes in the Ulster Championship. Unless we are prepared to battle in the Athletic Grounds we could come up short. The Armagh dressing-room is coming down with Ulster Championship medals, ours is not. That’s something that we have to try and put right to some extent if we can, starting tomorrow night,” asserts McCartan.

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