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McCartan wants pride and passion to get Down on the up again

By John Campbell

Down manager James McCartan accepts that defeat for his team at the hands of Donegal in tomorrow night's Allianz League Division One showdown at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey would provide grist to the mill for the cynics.

"We are being tipped to go down this year, just as we were last year, so a second successive loss would suit the begrudgers," said McCartan.

"This match also presents us with a massive incentive to show our worth and we won't be going into it burdened with an inferiority complex. It's time for a show of courage and pride."

The Down boss was less than impressed with the manner in which his team's game against Tyrone last weekend was handled by Barry Cassidy but while he was left to lament what he regarded as several questionable decisions, he nonetheless now feels that if his side can show the same work-rate and spirit they will test Donegal to the full.

McCartan certainly wants no repeat of the surrender that accompanied Down's abject performance in last year's Ulster final which Donegal won 2-18 to 0-13.

It was a setback that prompted a number of McCartan's men to take a long, hard look in the mirror and no one analysed his own image more than centrethreequarters Mark Poland.

"For maybe 40 minutes in the Ulster final everything was going well, but I think it's a consistency thing. Maybe we took our eye off the ball, but we suffered a bad defeat," admits Poland.

"We've been tipped for relegation the past two or three years, but we regard that as paper talk. People like to think these things. It's been said that this is the toughest Division One for a long time but we can still prove ourselves."

The renewal of rivalry with a Donegal side that has won two Ulster titles and an All-Ireland crown in less than 18 months under Jim McGuinness offers Down the opportunity to make a bold bid for redemption.

They may still be without Ambrose Rogers, Danny Hughes, Dan Gordon and Liam Doyle but Poland along with Brendan Coulter, Conor Laverty and Paul McComiskey brings subtle skills to the attack while Kalum King and Kevin McKernan provide bulk and physicality at midfield.

"The number of players which we have lost to emigration, injury and retirements has been inordinate. There's a massive turnover there which we would rather not have because we don't have the same pick as teams like Dublin, Cork and Mayo have," said McCartan.

It's at the back that the Mournemen tend to be particularly vulnerable although Tyrone were forced to work extremely hard for their victory last Saturday.

Ryan Mallon, Benny McArdle and Ryan Boyle form a fusion of youth and experience in a new-look rearguard that manager McCartan hopes can end its penchant for generosity in terms of leaking goals.

The defence will face a chilling test against the power of Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty in particular while Down must also seek a way of curbing Donegal's lethal counter-attacking strategy in which Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson are key players.

All-Ireland winning captain Murphy was outstanding for DCU against Queen's in the Sigerson Cup on Wednesday and is back to his best form – a fact which McCartan is only too well aware.

"Obviously Donegal have quality in their attack, but I thought we showed against Tyrone that we have got tighter and with a little more luck we might have fared even better. Maybe we will get that rub of the green against Donegal, but it will be all down to effort and staying power just the same," points out McCartan.

Victory would certainly ignite his team's league journey – and perhaps lay the groundwork for the cynics to be proved wrong.

Belfast Telegraph


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