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James McCartan: Down manager assessed by his peers

Four men who played alongside Down manager James McCartan at various times in his career tell Micheal McGeary what’s made him the success he is today

PAUL McGRANE: Even as a young student at St Colman’s College in Newry he was very competitive, a man for the big occasion.

He was a massive player for the college in his time there, a real shining light, always in the thick of things and prepared to lead by example.

I remember one particular MacRory Cup final in 1989 when Violet Hill lost to St Pat’s, Maghera by a point and James scored three goals and two points.

People talk about how skilful he was and the goals he scored out of the blue, but the thing that struck me most was his ability to block opponent’s kicks, which is a very special skill.

He was one of the finest exponents of a block that I’ve ever seen and he was able to do it time out of number.

He had a certain presence about him and there’s no doubt his elevation to the senior side in 1990 really ignited that side and set them up for All Ireland success in 1991.

I was fortunate enough to win a Sigerson Cup medal with Queen’s along with both James, and Kieran McGeeney, Anthony Tohill, Cathal O’Rourke, Paul Brewster, Denis Holywood.

MICKEY LINDEN: I can remember very clearly Wee James, Cathal Murray and Conor Deegan being drafted into the senior side and the tremendous boost it gave the whole squad.

James was an exceptional talent. He was blessed with great balance, great strength and tremendous pace.

He had great self-belief and was never afraid to take defenders on regardless of how big they were.

The one thing corner backs dread is forwards who are prepared to run at them and it didn’t help their cause that James was so unpredictable.

There was no second guessing him for he was never one for doing the same thing twice.

Like all the McCartans he just hated losing which made him a tremendous competitor.

No matter what he turned his hand to, he was a winner and we were just fortunate to have him.

I wasn’t in the least surprised that he went into management though I was a wee bit surprised that he went for the Down job so early in his career, though I reckoned he would go for it at some stage.

But to be fair, James and his management team have given us all a great lift.

They were bitterly disappointed at losing the league final to Armagh but they bounced back.

PADDY O’ROURKE: The one big thing that set James apart from his peers was that he had so much confidence in his own ability.

Add in his bravery and eye for goal.

From the first time he came to county training he knew he was a special talent.

I always felt that one day he would go into management as he’s a very charismatic character with a great personality who gets on well with people.

Sunday’s going to be another big day for him but I’m sure he will revel in the challenge.

I expect it to be very close, but I believe it’s a game they can win.

If all goes according to plan and they get to next month’s All Ireland final against Cork then who knows just what might happen.

Some people aren’t giving Kildare the respect they are entitled to, but they are a side improving with every match.

What happened against Kerry earlier this month is history now and the whole focus has to be on producing their very best and leaving Croke Park on Sunday evening with no regrets.

LEE DOHERTY: I was captain of Glenavon when James joined us.

Straight away you could tell that he was a strong-willed individual who knew exactly what he wanted even in a sport that was unfamiliar to him.

It took him a little while to adjust but he cracked it and became an important player for us.

James wasn’t the most gifted footballer technically, but his attitude, professionalsim, commitment and desire was top class.

He had something about him and I’m not surprised that he moved into management. I’m not surprised either that he is proving to be a real success at it.

To be honest I wouldn’t normally keep in touch with what is happening in gaelic football, but I’ve been following Down’s progress in the All-Ireland Championship because of James and would like to see them go all the way.

I’ll always remember an end of season tour Glenavon had in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We were having trouble finding somewhere to go until we came to this Irish bar.

We went in and the walls were filled with pictures of James, who was a real hero to the regulars. We were treated like lords and it was a good night. Hopefully James will have another one on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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