Monday 20 November 2017

Down on damage limitation – Carr

Down players Martin Clarke, right, and Mark Poland
Down players Martin Clarke, right, and Mark Poland
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In the aftermath of Down's Ulster SFC quarter-final success over Derry in Celtic Park earlier in the month, the former Armagh footballer Jarlath Burns used the discussion on BBC's live coverage of the game to put some context on the scale of the victory Down had just conjured up.

He put an alternative 15 together, comprising players who had been lost either to long-term injury, emigration or, in the case of two, signing professional terms with AFL clubs.

Put on paper for perusal and it might well have been a championship team from any recent season.

It has left Down people with a sense of 'what if' but also an understanding that manager James McCartan is doing quite a job to keep them as competitive as they are.

Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney are on the books of Collingwood, Peter Fitzpatrick has also emigrated to Australia, Paul McComiskey, Arthur McConville and Darren O'Hagan went to the USA after the league, Danny Hughes, Dan Gordon, Conor Garvey and Aidan Carr are all long-term injury victims while Damien Rafferty is unlikely to play again for the same reasons.


Over half the team that started the 2010 All-Ireland final were not involved in the opening round against Derry.

McCartan's predecessor Ross Carr suggests there is a great appreciation in Down for McCartan and the hand he has been dealt.

"Most people in Down would have nothing but sympathy and admiration for what James is doing," Carr said. "I would say there are 10 players out there who are either away or injured that would make the first team otherwise.

"If you take the greatest teams of this and the previous era, say Kilkenny hurlers or Kerry footballers, if Brian Cody or Mick O'Dwyer didn't have 10 first-choice players where would they have been?" he asked. "Anybody that would lose 10 of your starting 15, two thirds of your team, would face some challenge.

"From the start of 2012 he has been 'spinning plates'," added Carr, who admits that Sunday's Ulster semi-final is about avoiding a repeat of last year's Ulster final defeat to the same opponents.

"I would hope for a performance, obviously I would love a win but you just hope it is not a repeat of last year's Ulster final or the game against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Down need to avoid those type of defeats," he conceded.

The knock-on effect of missing so many front-line players is the weakening of the bench that it creates.

"It really weakens your bench and that's a big concern at this level," Carr acknowledged.

Carr's former All-Ireland-winning colleague Mickey Linden shares his view that limiting damage is essential for Down.

"Realistically, I don't think Down will beat Donegal," Linden said. "I think most people are realistic about it, that if we get within a few points of them it would be a realistic target. You have to say that making inroads into the scale of last year's defeat (2-18 to 0-13) would be progress."

Linden feels that if Down can avoid those heavy defeats that have ended their championship interest in the last two years, they can set themselves up for a more sustained challenge in Ulster in the coming years. And he feels Benny Coulter will hang in there for as long as possible to achieve that elusive success.

"He's only 31, there is still a bit left in him," Linden said. "I'm hoping he'll have a big game on Sunday but I suppose he will be well marshalled. That is the problem for the last number of years. He does get a lot of attention and he can get quite frustrated.

"There should be quite a bit of football left in him yet. A couple of years ago he said he would have retired fairly soon but, having talked to him, he seems to be keen to stay on another few years. The emergence of Donal O'Hare has taken quite a bit of pressure off him."

DOWN (SF v Donegal) – B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn; D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle; K King, K McKernan; A Rogers, M Poland, N Madine; C Laverty, B Coulter, D O'Hare.

Irish Independent

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