Tally excited to weigh up Down talent for 2020 bid
Down manager Paddy Tally and his backroom team are certainly not allowing the grass to grow under their feet as they set their stall out for 2020.
With the county's Senior Football Championship currently at full throttle, they have already commenced their trawl for fresh talent having previously unearthed a number of players who have now graduated at inter-county level.
Several such players will be in action when Saval take on Longstone tonight (6.30pm) before Ballyholland and An Riocht lock horns (8pm) in an attractive double bill at Pairc Esler, Newry.
Tally's bold decision to blood players such as Conor Poland, Conor Francis, Daniel Guinness, Ruairi Wells and Cory Quinn in addition to Pierce Laverty and Pat Havern has already spawned the belief that the Mourne County might finally emerge from the Championship doldrums.
Tonight's two games will be followed by the meeting of Bredagh and Carryduff at Liatrom Fontenoys tomorrow night (7.30pm) as well as the clash of Castlewellan and Burren at Clonduff (8pm) which means that within the space of 24 hours Tally can expect an overall briefing on a further eight teams - this at a time when some county Championships are just getting off the ground.
Down, of course, are noted for completing their internal leagues and Championships on schedule and the meticulous Tally, whose propensity for statistical analysis is impressive, certainly finds this very much to his liking.
"It's good to get down to business early. Obviously we would like to have made more headway this year but at the same time you would have to say that a number of players gained further in terms of experience at inter-county level," stated Tally.
The gods did not exactly smile on Down this year as they lost to Armagh after extra-time in the Ulster Championship at Pairc Esler, Newry (3-13 to 2-17) before exiting the All-Ireland qualifiers to Mayo by 1-16 to 1-11.
But Tally has already consigned these results to the past as he prepares to drive Down to a brand new level.
Poland gets an opportunity to further impress when he is expected to line out at midfield for Longstone tonight, while tomorrow night Daniel and James Guinness, regarded as two of the most exciting young players in the county, will line out for Carryduff against Bredagh in what could be termed as a south Belfast derby.
Daniel Guinness in particular made his mark with Down this year and is expected to come more into the spotlight next year.
Tally's courage in promoting unheralded players has so far brought its own rewards in terms of the progress they have made as individuals but his challenge is to wield together a side that can bring the Mourne County back to the top again.
It's 25 years since Down last took delivery of the Ulster crown and when the 1994 team were feted at the recent Ulster final, the celebrations were tinted with hope that the glory days might return sooner rather than later.
It was Ross Carr, a Down hero in 1991 and 1994 when the county ruled the waves, who expressed the overall feeling of optimism that better times might be ahead for the side.
"I think Down have been making progress and we have had to be patient in hoping for more success. But there is no doubt that there are good players in the county and I think the management can blend them into a team that might do well," insisted Carr.
The current Senior Football Championship will certainly bring the fans out in big numbers not just to view the headway being made by individual clubs but to monitor the progress of those players who could be in line to launch Down's drive for success in 2020.
Meanwhile, the future of Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien is reportedly in doubt.
It is understood that O'Brien does not have the backing of several members of the county board, which means that he might be forced to resign.
Down man Stephen Poacher has been working with O'Brien of late and he too could depart the Carlow scene.
O'Brien has already lost his two selectors from this year, Benji O'Brien and Tommy Wogan, but it remains to be seen if he will get nominated to go forward for ratification.
Carlow have made headway under the baton of O'Brien, but not enough to please all parties it would seem.