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Down must give it everything to end 25-year Ulster drought, says Poland


High hopes: Mark Poland says Down can go on a hot streak
High hopes: Mark Poland says Down can go on a hot streak
John Campbell

By John Campbell

A decade spent in the famous red and black jersey has helped to give Mark Poland a deep insight into the psyche of Down football.

So much so, indeed, that the Longstone clubman firmly believes that a quarter of a century without an Ulster title is a famine that requires urgent addressing by the Mourne County.

Poland, a creative force within the side, played against Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland final and shared in the agony of losing that game by a point (0-16 to 0-15) but now feels that Down must step up smartly to the mark in their forthcoming Ulster Championship quarter-final against Armagh.

That could prove a big ask given that the Mourne side lost out in their bid to gain promotion to Division Two by only managing to draw with Louth in their last game following which they were dealt a further blow when several players left the panel.

"Obviously for a county of Down's pedigree, 25 years without an Ulster title is a very cold, stark statistic and I would love to see this emptiness ended," said Poland.

"I would not be prepared to read too much into the league performances of both teams ahead of this match at Newry.

"Come Championship time, things can be a lot different and I think the game will take on a life of its own.

"Obviously there is an intense rivalry there and while I expect it to be very close, I remain hopeful that Down will come out on the right side.

"If they manage to get the better of Armagh, I think that there is the chance they might get on a bit of a run and you never know where that might take them."

In his role as Games Promotion Officer with the Down GAA board, Poland continues to play a key role in nurturing youthful talent and points to the number of players who have made an impact at senior level with the county under Paddy Tally.

"I believe there is still plenty of talent in Down with people like Rory Burns, Ruairi Wells, Pierce Laverty, Johnny Flynn and Daniel Guinness currently coming through," observed Poland.

Modesty perhaps precludes him from mentioning the considerable impression made by his own younger brother Conor in the centre-half-forward role, the position that Mark himself filled up until recently.

"Yes, I suppose you could say that Conor is a good young player," he agreed.

"I think like others in the side he got better as the league went on. He was travelling back and forth from London for a couple of years because of work commitments so he wasn't getting the stretch of training that he needed."

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