Tuesday 20 February 2018

McCartan eager to avoid 'one-year wonders' tagafter agonising defeat

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

THE heavy hand of history may have hovered on their shoulder all summer, but it is history of another sort that this Down team are now hoping to avoid.

It wasn't the fact that they had just lost the county's unbeaten streak in All-Ireland senior finals that hurt most, but the thought that this year's unexpected odyssey might prove to be a flash in the pan.

"None of us want to be one-hit wonders," stressed veteran attacker Danny Hughes. "There is a great wee development squad coming through and these boys are all hungry and we'll probably have to tell them in the next couple of months that these things (finals) don't happen every year, but I'm sure we'll learn from this experience and use it in the next couple of years."

Crestfallen manager James McCartan (right) was equally firm. "We got beaten in an All-Ireland final, we're not happy with it, but the thing I would like is that we wouldn't be one-year wonders," he said. "We'll try and ensure we're not, we think we have a squad that can compete year in, year out.

"It's easy saying that, doing it is another thing," he acknowledged, "especially whenever you have to go to the Ulster championship again. Getting back to Croke Park seems a million miles away again now, but that'll be the target we'll be setting."

This season was the 50th anniversary of Down's famous All-Ireland senior breakthrough, but McCartan felt that the county's football history had never encumbered his team.

"I don't think history had any bearing," he stressed. "On a personal level, it wasn't so much 'six out of six' for me, but to try and pay tribute to the 1960 team.

"Obviously, I'd strong family ties to that team, so that was a wee personal thing that was probably driving me, but I think the history was irrelevant to the players," he insisted.

Hughes had a slightly different take on it.

"Personally, I didn't want to be on the first Down team that was beaten in an All-Ireland final," he admitted. "But I don't think it put any extra pressure on us. There's always pressure when you're playing in an All-Ireland final, regardless of what went before."

What everyone in the Down camp did agree on was that Cork killed them in midfield.

Most of the match statistics were relatively even, like Cork's 100 handpasses to Down's 93 and a 69-61 solo-run count. But the marginal difference in the possession stakes (53pc to Cork) and the catches from kick-outs (9-5 to Cork) were significant.

McCartan admitted that their midfield options were always limited after the injury loss of Ambrose Rodgers.

So, wasn't he tempted to yank previous incumbent Dan Gordon out of full-back and throw him in there?

"We actually did! Dan was there for the last few minutes," he said. "I didn't want to do it, but felt that we needed it and maybe I should have done it earlier.

"We had problems there. Maybe Benny McArdle should have been slotted in there, but I just didn't want to do that, I'll hold my hands up," he admitted candidly.

"We toiled away as best we could and with 10 minutes to go it looked like Cork were going to pull away comfortably, so I'm just delighted that our guys dug in, showed a wee bit of spirit and dragged it back. Maybe a draw would have been an unfair result, but it'd have been one we'd have taken," he said.

Yet, Down could take some consolation from the fact that Cork had lost two recent finals before yesterday's long-awaited title.

"Cork obviously felt the pain that we're feeling now and they've come back from it and reached their Holy Grail today and I'd like to pay tribute to them," McCartan stressed. "Cork were deserving winners on the day and we'd have no qualms about that at all."

Irish Independent

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