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McCartan sizes up rebel clash

JAMES McCARTAN admits he is facing the biggest challenge of his managerial career -- quite literally.

The Down football supremo has already masterminded the All-Ireland quarter-final ambush of holders Kerry and then the semi-final defeat of Kildare.

In both cases his team bucked the bookies' odds with a brace of thrilling victories -- but now Cork's giant physique poses a new tactical conundrum for the trailblazing 'rookie' boss.

"Cork have a huge panel, a huge team physically as well, and it's going to take a huge game from us to put it up to them," McCartan conceded at Down's All-Ireland final press conference in Newry.

"Undoubtedly they're probably the biggest team about in Ireland. You do spend a wee bit of time trying to figure out 'Can we win possession and can we break tackles, or should we try to avoid it?'

"All these questions are going to have to be asked on the day. We think we've got good footballers, but you have to earn the right to play," he stressed.

"We're going to have to, at least, challenge Cork's physicality. I don't mean go out looking for trouble by any means, but if a man comes to hit you a shoulder you're going to have to try and stand up to it. But I wouldn't say we'll go looking for trouble or anything like that, because we'd be happy if it's an open game.

"I'm sure Conor (Counihan) knows the strengths of his (Cork) team and he'll want to play to them too. They're a big strong, physical team, they're well able to mix it, and we're just going to have to be able to survive if that happens."

On Sunday week, for the third game running, Down will come to Croke Park as underdogs against the beaten All-Ireland finalists of '07 and '09. For all that, Cork's underwhelming form has attracted negative comment all summer.

"It's a great way to come into an All-Ireland final," McCartan warned. "To be criticised and knowing that if you play to your full potential ... everybody thinks that they have been the best team in Ireland for the last two or three years, except they haven't been able to overcome Kerry.

"So that's a great stick for Conor to beat them with coming into the final: 'Look at all these pundits that are criticising you'. And I'm sure he's hoping you continue to do that.


"But unfortunately every pundit that is criticising them is probably tipping them to win as well! So we're in a very strange situation ... in the back of their heads everybody is saying if they (Cork) play to their potential, they're going to win this pulling up."

On the casualty front, skipper Ambrose Rogers remains Down's most pressing worry as the influential midfielder races against time to overcome the knee injury that ruled him out of the Kildare game.

"From our point of view, things wouldn't have changed a huge amount in that we're preparing without him," McCartan cautioned. "But, certainly, Ambrose is a lot further down the road of rehabilitation."

Rogers' injury has been described as a sprained cruciate ligament, as opposed to a full ACL tear. However, there are parallels with Killkenny hurling duo Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson, who were risked from the start of last Sunday's All-Ireland SHC decider with very mixed results.

"Certainly we're aware of what happened Henry Shefflin at the weekend, but Mr Tennyson came through all right.

"Look, we don't want to put a man in a position where he's obviously going to be telling you that everything is fine or whatever," McCartan explained.

"When we're a bit closer to the final, maybe a few days to it, we'll certainly expect him (Rogers) to take part in a full training session. We're not going to put him in blind and expect him to do great things for us. He's certainly a good bit further down in the rehab road and it's again a wait-and-see."