Mickey Linden insists Down can rediscover glory days
Down legend Mickey Linden is calling for an all-out effort to be made in 2015 to ensure that the county regains some of its former glory.
Linden, an All-Ireland winner in 1991 and 1994, believes that a 20-year spell without an Ulster title is "much too long" and is urging players, county board officials and supporters to get behind new manager Jim McCorry in his bid to resurrect Mourne County fortunes.
Down face an early-season test in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup as they must meet Cavan, Monaghan and UUJ and Linden is anxious that the team hit the ground running.
"There are a lot of good players in Down and Jim McCorry is leaving no stone unturned in trying to get his best squad together," insists Linden.
"We are a proud football county but you would have to say that we have not been enjoying the best of fortunes in recent years.
"There is no reason why this trend cannot be reversed, though, given commitment, enthusiasm and a desire to get up among the big guns again."
Down's recent track record was brought into focus at last night's County Convention when secretary Sean Og McAteer submitted his report and outgoing chairman Seamus Walsh delivered a robust address in which he called for unity and passion going forward.
Linden, whose outstanding performances in attack during his career have long since seen him bracketed with Sean O'Neil, Paddy Doherty and Greg Blaney as being among Down's greatest-ever forwards, is adamant that there is new, emerging talent up front right now.
"Obviously we have had some retirements lately and other players are long-term injury victims at the minute or are out of the equation for other reasons but when you consider that players like the Johnston brothers Ryan and Jerome, Ross McGarry and others are coming in to join the likes of Mark Poland, Donal O'Hare and Conor Laverty, you can see that we are not short on quality," points out Linden (pictured).
But the Mayobridge clubman is conscious that Down require defensive adjustments if they are to make significant progress when the new season gets under way.
"We have to tighten up at the back, there's no doubt about that," stresses Linden.
"We can't be giving scores away too easily. There is greater emphasis on defence nowadays and teams, especially the leading county teams, are set up in such a way that they can be hard to break down.
"Down have to become like that. It seems that teams are built on defence in the modern game and while you have to restrict your opponents, you also have to make sure that you put more scores on the board than they do."
With manager McCorry having indicated that the door is still open, a number of players could yet make it into his squad as he is still casting his net across the county.
There is still uncertainty about the involvement of players such as Kalum King, Liam Doyle and others next year but with Caolan Mooney, Danny Savage, Timmy Hanna, Peter Fitzpatrick and Darren O'Hagan available to him, McCorry is not short on talent.
And while Linden laments the retirement of Benny Coulter, he believes that this offers the chance for other Down players to step up to the plate and show leadership on the field of play.
"I think boys like Mark Poland, Kevin McKernan, Ryan Boyle, Peter Turley, Conor Laverty and others have the great ability to set the tone for Down displays and I believe that other players can take their lead from the likes of them," adds Linden.