Ger Houlahan: Half century of tradition will serve Down well
Down are back in an All Ireland final, 50 years after winning their first. It’s as though the script had already been written as the team derived great motivation from that occasion.
This team has come an amazingly long way and I can hardly believe it having watched them fall to Armagh in the National League final.
James McCartan, ably assisted by the shrewd Brian McIver and the talented Paddy Tally, have built a team taking a leaf out of the Tyrone manual for tackling in packs all over the field but also allowing their quality forwards to express themselves.
Having tried to analyse this match in the days leading up to it, I found it almost impossible to come up with a prediction.
Both teams had enjoyed significant victories on their way to the semi-finals but both had also shown patches of mediocrity especially in the early stages of the qualifying series.
But it’s what happens on the day that counts and Down were deserving of their victory although it has to be said that Pat McEneaney and his team, for a change, had an off-day especially from a Kildare point of view.
Down were more economical, efficient and natural with the Coulter-Clarke axis working in superb style. Both are class acts and really put the icing on the hard-working Down cake.
This was a terrific team effort, which epitomises the entire Championship season. Hughes, Rafferty, McKernan and King were sublime, winning the ball and driving forward at every opportunity and allowing the class of Coulter and Clarke to make hay.
Rafferty was excellent as a sweeper, nullifying the direct ball going into the very dangerous Kildare forward line, who will also rue several missed chances.
The Lily Whites particularly lost their way either side of half-time allowing Down to gain the upper hand, going six points in front at one stage and not scoring themselves for almost 15 minutes.
So Down are back and the confidence gained from 50 years of All Ireland tradition will now take over.
Down have played in five finals and won them all — the big question is, can they now make it the round half-dozen?