National Football League: Dynamic Down on road to title joy
Down manager James McCartan intimated in advance of the Allianz Football League that survival in Division One would be a priority for his team.
It was a modest goal for a county that had come within a whisker of winning last year’s All-Ireland final.
But now the Mournemen, their place in the top bracket already firmly secured for next term, are suddenly chasing a rather more ambitious goal — a place in the league decider.
And while McCartan stresses that their remaining two scheduled games against Dublin and Kerry will be their hardest of the campaign, such is the morale within his side and the desire to procure silverware that their quest for glory could help provide a grandstand climax to the competition.
They may occupy third place in the table just now behind pacesetters Dublin and second-placed Cork but Down have the capacity to project themselves into the title spotlight.
With just one defeat in five games despite what was initially a daunting injury list, Down have underlined they possess a great deal of rich reserves of talent.
Gerard McCartan and Brendan McArdle deputised again for Daniel McCartan and Damien Rafferty in the impressive 1-16 to 0-11 victory over Monaghan at the weekend while manager McCartan was able to deploy vastly experienced substitutes including Ronan Murtagh, Ronan Sexton and Aidan Carr.
With Benny Coulter fit again following his hamstring problem, Martin Clarke flourishing in his role as playmaker and Daniel Hughes reproducing the form that made him such a key cog side in the last year, Down undoubtedly have the skills and power to maintain the pressure on the frontrunners.
Manager McCartan though continues to tread warily despite his team’s progress.
“These last two games against Dublin and Kerry are daunting,” he admits, “But isn’t it great to be in a position where we are going to be playing games against two of the best teams in the country?”
While the matches are certainly hugely important in a league context, they will offer Down the perfect preparation for their Ulster championship clash with neighbours Armagh on May 28.
Dublin’s unbeaten run to date will ensure that there will be some 40,000 fans at Croke Park for Down’s visit on Saturday week while Kerry officials believe that the Mournemen will prove the biggest box-office attraction of the season when they visit the Kingdom the following week.
It seems Down’s elegant style and adventurous approach is helping to entice even opposing fans into grounds.
Down chairman Seamus Walsh says: “We are getting set for a great finish to the league. We have two huge matches coming up and we will be ready for them. The fans are getting behind the team in a big way and hopefully we will get the results we are seeking.”