McCartan hails character as Down break six-dayhoodoo
FOR over 10 years it had stalked the managers of losing provincial finalists, haunting their thoughts, disturbing their sleep patterns.
The six-day turnaround had fast become one of Irish sport's famous jinxes but is now no more. Only Dublin had managed to bounce back within a week of losing a provincial decider to win a Round 4 qualifier, and that was back in 2001.
Thirteen previous attempts to revive an inter-county season, but just one pulse. On Saturday, that grim statistic was rendered less meaningful as Down recovered sufficiently from their Ulster final mauling against Donegal to beat Tipperary at Cusack Park, Mullingar.
And their reward for not throwing in the towel on championship 2012 is a crack at Mayo in the last eight. If you'd asked James McCartan whether he'd like Cork, Dublin or Mayo next weekend, he'd have taken Mayo, surely.
The Down boss reflected: "I would have liked to have gone in through the front door, but it's a chastening experience what we went through last week. Not only on the field, but the stuff afterwards."
Down were blitzed by Donegal, losing by 11 points, but the soul-searching that followed produced the right result.
"These boys have shown a bit of character since last week," McCartan added. "They have shown character in the past and we would like to go on and put in a performance in Croke Park that supporters will be proud of."
Down fans among the crowd of 3,620 saw heroes of some renown step up to the plate with Herculean performances. Hats off to Dan Gordon, Benny Coulter, Mark Poland and especially, Ambrose Rodgers. Danny Hughes was absent again with a hamstring injury and is not sure if he'll be ready for next weekend.
Down came good in the closing minutes to book their place in the last eight. Tipp had come from seven points down -- 1-11 to 0-7 -- in the second half with a run of four unanswered points. But Poland and midfield colossus Rodgers scored late points to stop the fightback.
At half-time, Down had led by 1-6 to 0-4, with Coulter scoring the goal in the fifth minute of stoppage-time. The significance of Coulter's close-range effort, one of the simplest he'll have scored in his career, was massive.
Tipp had cut a five-point deficit down to just two and would have the breeze in the second half.
Instead, the wind was knocked out of their sails as Down led by five again at the break.
The goal was scored soon after referee Cormac Reilly decided not to award a free to Tipperary wing-back Brian Fox after he was caught with a high challenge in enemy territory.
It was a bizarre call -- the whole match was not one of Reilly's finest hours -- and a number of his decisions enraged both sets of supporters.
The football, meanwhile, was as patchy as the weather as driving rain mixed with sunshine.
As Down marched on, Peter Creedon was asked about his future with an emerging Tipp team.
"I don't know," he said, before dropping a big hint. "Look, the best place to manage is inter-county football. But I have other things in my own life -- family and job.
"It's a serious commitment. I've a good team with me -- the players want to move in the right direction."
And McCartan admitted that plenty of thought had gone into how Down would cope with Tipp.
"We got a lot of people on the phone this week. I don't want to reveal sources because it would compromise some of them, but we were able to isolate the men who needed to be targeted, and looking at the video footage from other games, we soon came to realise that they had four or five top-class forwards who were going to take a lot of marking.."
Scorers -- Down: B Coulter 1-2, M Poland 0-4 (1f), A Rodgers 0-4 (1f), D Gordon, K Duffin (f), B McArdle 0-1 each. Tipperary: M Quinlivan (2f), A Maloney (1f) 0-3 each, P Austin 0-2, B Fox, P Acheson, B Mulvihill 0-1 each.
DOWN -- B McVeigh 7; N McParland 6, D Gordon 8, D O'Hagan 7; A Carr 7, C Garvey 6, B McArdle 7; A Rodgers 9, K King 8; C Maginn 6, M Poland 8, K Duffin 6; E McCartan 6, B Coulter 8, C Laverty 8. Subs: K McKernan 7 for Carr (48), L Doyle 6 for McParland (52), D O'Hare 6 for McCartan (55), A Brannigan 6 for Duffin (60).
TIPPERARY -- P Fitzgerald 6; A Morrissey 6, P Codd 6, C McDonald 6; A Campbell 6, R Kiely 6, B Fox 6; G Hannigan 5, H Coghlan 5; R Ryan 5, P Austin 6, D Leahy 6; A Maloney 7, P Acheson 7, M Quinlivan 6. Subs: B O'Brien 6 for Ryan (h-t), B Mulvihill 6 for Austin (54), R Costigan 6 for Hannigan (55), M Dunne 5 for Coghlan (61), J O'Callaghan 5 for Kiely (62).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath)