Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 21 April 2018

We can lose to anyone, admits McCartan as Down enter 'dogfight'

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

James McCartan doesn't put a tooth in it. On their day, Down can lose to anybody. Literally anybody.

They may be considered the aristocracy of the north but when the mood takes them they can slum it out in the basement with the worst of them. They're not precious when it comes to the fabric of their defeats.

So assessing where they are now in the overall scheme of things is, McCartan admits, a "difficult" assignment.

He knows this much. They reached a league semi-final last month but they are not a top-four team. Top eight? He'll be better placed at the end of his third year in charge to determine that.

"It's very difficult to assess Down because Down is the type of team that could lose against anybody," he admitted.

"If we were playing a top team we might be considered dangerous if everything went our way. I don't for one minute think that the pundits will be tipping us for an Ulster championship or any national success. I'm not too annoyed about that.

Bonus

"We were in a league semi-final but we're not a top-four team. We are fully aware that it is bonus territory for us. We felt that staying in the division was our priority. Are we a top-eight team? I suppose you decide that later in the summer."

As a player, McCartan oozed craft and cockiness. As a manager the harsh realities have made him much more pragmatic. He's discovered how hard it is to control everything, from news about injuries to the weight of expectations that circulate.

Earlier this month, Benny Coulter, his most experienced player, was ruled out of the Ulster championship, after breaking his ankle. Any chance that the injury could be kept under wraps for even a brief period of time was quickly dismissed.

"In this day and age of social networking there are no secrets. Benny Coulter was injured. It used to be that you could keep it under wraps for a certain period of time. But it's on discussion boards that evening. There are no secrets," said McCartan.

"It's a difficult place to be at times but when you volunteer for the job you can't complain. The difficulties are that it's time-consuming and people in Down expect from us.

"When you get beaten by Cork, three times league champions, people think that shouldn't happen -- we should be winning all those games.

"That's the nature of the beast. The good things you have done are forgotten... where you have come from. Sometimes you feel people are shortsighted. They pay their money. But when you volunteer you can't complain too much."

Fermanagh in Enniskillen on Sunday is a potential black hole. He sees Peter Canavan "sprinkling his gold dust" and things potentially going awry.

"There is no doubt that we are set up for a big fall. I don't think it would surprise many people if Down didn't come out of Enniskillen," he said.

"I don't think playing in Division 1 prepares you for the first round of the Ulster championship going to Fermanagh.

"Playing in Division 1 may prepare you for the latter stages of the championship when you are meeting similar teams. But when you are going to meet a team that has played in Division 3 or Division 4, it's a dogfight every game.

"Everybody thinks it's harder in Division 1. Well, Down have been in Division 3 and it is a dogfight every game.

"That's what the first round of Ulster is going to be like. The top flight doesn't prepare you for that."

Injuries leave Down in a perilous position. Joining Coulter on the sidelines are Dan Gordon, who has failed to recover in time from a broken bone in his foot, and promising defender Niall McParland, who broke a bone in his hand last week.

On top of that, defenders Damien Rafferty and Declan Rooney are long-term injuries.

For McCartan, Rafferty is a missing link for Down.

"If I had Damien Rafferty over the last 18 months... he's the type of player who can mark other players well, the likes of David Kelly from Sligo, Gooch Cooper, the small, two-footed, quick players. He has done very good jobs on those type of players down through the years before I was involved. He's the type of player we're missing."

Irish Independent

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