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McCartan’s game plan is built on a solid foundation

By John Campbell

If the central spine of his side performs to the same level as it did against Tipperary last Saturday, then Down’s prospects of reaching the All-Ireland football semi-final will be considerably enhanced.

That’s the view of manager James McCartan as he puts the final touches to his preparations for tomorrow’s eagerly-awaited meeting with Connacht champions Mayo at Croke Park.

The Down boss restructured the core of his defence for the meeting with Peter Creedon’s side switching Dan Gordon to full-back and installing Brendan McArdle at centre-half-back.

Both were outstanding against Tipperary and with Ambrose Rogers in majestic form in midfield and Mark Poland orchestrating the team’s attack from centrethreequarters, it meant that the central axis of the Down side remained in overdrive, much to the satisfaction of McCartan.

“It was very pleasing to note the manner in which the backbone of the team operated and obviously we will seek to repeat this against Mayo, but you can be sure that they will have absorbed lessons from the league defeat they suffered against us earlier in the year and will have their plans made,” observes McCartan.

Gordon was a central plank in the Down midfield for several years before making the transformation to an accomplished defender and his impressive high fielding in the early stages of the game against Tipperary helped to infuse confidence into his side.

“We kept Tipperary to a relatively modest score as scores go this summer, but Mayo have some very sharp players in their forward line and their midfield and half-backs are not slow to come forward so we have to be prepared for this,” warns McCartan.

Under James Horan, Mayo are a more physical, tenacious side. In the past Mayo teams have tended to surrender rather meekly when the heat came on, but Horan has instilled greater strength of character and a much more robust psyche within his troops.

Down’s greater cohesion and solidity throughout their central division last Saturday came as a welcome boost for the management team after the almost casual manner in which Donegal were able to infiltrate their ranks and pick off a rich harvest of scores in the second-half of the Ulster final.

“We were as good as Donegal for 50 minutes of that game, but they were able to come at us through the middle during the last 20 and we just couldn’t stand up to them,” said McCartan.

“Hopefully we will not be as easily breached against Mayo and if we replicate the defiance we showed last Saturday then I don’t think that the team will be too far away.”

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