Down manager James McCartan last night fired out a challenge to his side to get back as quickly as possible to Croke Park.
McCartan was disappointed to see his side lose to Armagh in the Division Two final of the National League in April and now sees the All Ireland Qualifiers as a possible return ticket to HQ.
“But while Croke Park is our target we have to take one step at a time,” said McCartan.
“On Saturday in Newry in the second round of the Qualifiers we are facing a Longford side that contains players who were in the side when I was playing with Down myself and they will be experienced and streetwise.
“They are going to be very hard to beat especially following that boost they will have taken from their win over Mayo in the opening round.”
One of his last games in the famous red and black jersey was indeed against Longford and McCartan points to players like Paul Barden, Brian Kavanagh and Shane Mulligan as being “inspirational forces” in Glenn Ryan’s side.
“Down last played Longford in the Qualifiers about eight years ago but this will be a whole new ball game on Saturday,” he added.
“While we have won promotion in the National League, the current Down squad have nothing to show for their efforts in the championship in recent years and they are very keen to see a change in their fortunes.”
His team’s Ulster semi-final defeat by Tyrone triggered misgivings that Down could lapse into an all too familiar rut but McCartan believes that victory over Longford will rekindle optimism.
“I think if we re-create the spirit and commitment we showed in beating Donegal in the championship at Ballybofey we won’t be too far away,” he concluded.