Injuries temper McCartan's joy
JAMES McCARTAN'S satisfaction at seeing his side dish out a 19-point hammering to Sligo was tempered by concerns about the fitness of two of his key players for next weekend's All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Defender Damian Rafferty and forward Benny Coulter both picked up injuries, which forced them off during Saturday's clash with the defeated Connacht finalists at Kingspan Breffni Park.
Coulter was clearly limping as he walked off the pitch 10 minutes into the second half and Rafferty's participation in the match ended on 55 minutes.
"Damian has an arm injury, and Benny got a kick to the leg and there was no way that either of them could continue in the match," said the Down boss.
"It's always a worry when players pick up an injury, and, with only a week until our next match, the two lads don't have much time to recover from their injuries. We won't know until later in the week how the two of them are fixed for next weekend."
McCartan was adopting a very cautious approach after the showdown against Kevin Walsh's charges.
"Of course, it's very satisfying at seeing the team put up such a big score and win so comfortably in such an important match," he said.
"But on the other hand it's very easy for players to get carried away in such a situation, so we've got to ensure that we do as much as possible to keep their feet on the ground over the next week.
"It's going to be a huge test for us next weekend, and, as well as being physically right for the occasion, we've got to be mentally right. We're only in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, and we're still a long way away from a place in the All-Ireland final."
The former Down great, whose side led by 1-10 to 0-6 at half-time, went on to sound a warning note about the Mourne County's experience in the championship two years ago.
"After a good win over Offaly, people were really building Down up," he recalled of the side managed by his predecessor, Ross Carr. "But then in the next game against Wexford, Down never performed to their ability and they crashed out of the championship."
"Sligo were coming off the loss to Roscommon in the Connacht final just six days earlier, and it's very difficult for teams in those situations," he pointed out. "I think it's very unfair on a team that loses in a provincial final to have to come out in the championship again so soon afterwards and the current system is definitely flawed.
"But because of the tightness of the fixture schedule, I don't know if there's any way around it.
"We also had a game last Sunday (against Offaly), but, unlike Sligo, we were coming off a win and had the benefit of that momentum. I felt sorry for Sligo, because after the year they had it was a pity that they went out of the championship in such a manner."
Sligo boss Walsh said he felt the mental factor played a significant part in his side's failure to get their championship campaign back on track.
"It was definitely more mental than physical for us," he said. "The lads were naturally very down after losing the Connacht final, and it's very hard for players to get themselves mentally right for their next match so soon afterwards.
"We tried as hard as we could to get the players right mentally, but that's not an easy task. I think the two games against Galway took an awful lot out of us, and we didn't cope favourably with being overwhelming favourites for the Connacht final.
"As well, the fact that our two midfielders, Tony Taylor and Stephen Gilmartin (who came on for the last 30 minutes), were injured was a massive blow for a county that doesn't have a big pick of players."
After two years at the Sligo helm, the former Galway star was non-committal about his future. "It's not something I'm thinking about at the moment, and there's no rush about making a decision in that regard," he said.
From the start, Down looked the fresher team, and but for a super save by Sligo goalkeeper Philip Greene, from Paul McComiskey, Walsh's side would have been no score to 1-3 adrift after just three minutes.
On 30 minutes, Down did find the net through John Clarke -- to go 1-8 to 0-3 ahead -- and midfielder Ambrose Rodgers added a second goal just minutes into the second half.
Second-half sub Ronan Murtagh, who shot five points, then fired home the third four minutes from time.
Rodgers and Kalum King controlled the midfield exchanges, and up front former Aussie Rules ace Martin Clarke expertly pulled the strings, with his brother John and Danny Hughes also proving real thorns in the side of the Sligo defence.
David Kelly and Adrian Marren occasionally looked dangerous in the Sligo attack, but Alan Costello, who shot five points in the Connacht final, made little impact, and was yellow-carded before he was withdrawn nine minutes into the second half.
SCORERS -- Down: R Murtagh 1-5, M Clarke 0-4 (0-2f, 0-1 '45'), A Rogers, J Clarke 1-1 each, D Hughes 0-3, M Poland 0-2 (0-2f), K McKernan, P McComiskey, C Garvey, P Fitzpatrick 0-1 each. Sligo: S Coen 0-3 (0-2f), A Marren 0-3 (0-3f), D Kelly 0-2, M Breheny (0-1f), C McGee 0-1 each.
DOWN -- B McVeigh 6; D McCartan 7, D Gordon 8, D Rafferty 7; D Rooney 7, K McKernan 8, C Garvey 7; A Rodgers 9, K King 8; D Hughes 8, M Poland 6, P McComiskey 7; B Coulter 7, J Clarke 8, M Clarke 8. Subs: R Murtagh 8 for Coulter (45), D O'Hagan 6 for Rafferty (55), P Fitzpatrick 7 for King 56), J Brown for M Clarke (61), R Sexton for McComiskey (61).
SLIGO -- P Greene 8; C Harrison 5, N McGuire 5, R Donovan 6; K Cawley 5, B Kennedy 5, J Davey 5; E Mullen 5, S Davey 5; A Costello 5, M Breheny 6, E O'Hara 5; S Coen 7, A Marren 6, D Kelly 7. Subs: P McGovern 5 for J Davey (17), S Gilmartin 5 for S Davey (39), K Sweeney 5 for Costello (44), C McGee 6 for Breheny (47), F Quinn 6 for O'Hara (54).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).