Mickey Linden calls for Down to focus on Championship clash with Monaghan
THE 2010 All-Ireland final may go down as an opportunity lost for Down, but the county's focus must be on winning an Ulster title, according to Mourne legend Mickey Linden.
Sunday's clash with Monaghan in the Athletics Grounds represents the county's best chance to return to the provincial showpiece since the 2003 replay defeat to Tyrone, which also marked the end of Linden's illustrious career.
"I suppose 2010 was a missed opportunity. People talk about the chances we missed in that game, but when you look at it, Cork could have been out of sight after the first 10 minutes," said the 1994 Footballer of the Year.
"But the focus now has to be on winning an Ulster. There's a lot of good players there who have been around for a while, like Benny (Coulter), and they don't have an Ulster medal yet. That would be a big lift to everyone.
"After that it's hard to say where the season could bring you. People are talking about Dublin, Cork and a couple of others being the leading teams. Kildare are getting to that level too. Then you seem to have a lot of teams just under them and I would say Down are in that group."
Since that surprise run to the All-Ireland final, Down's cause has been badly hit by injuries and absentees.
Martin Clarke returned to the AFL and Down's hottest underage prospect since the An Riocht man, Caolan Mooney, followed him to Collingwood.
Ambrose Rodgers has struggled with injury and Damien Rafferty has been forced to retire from all football due to a persistent groin injury.
Aidan Brannigan will miss Sunday's match after indicating that he will not appeal the one-match suspension imposed on him after an incident during the win over Fermanagh on June 3.
The wing-back was handed the ban after the Central Competitions Controls Committee (CCCC) used video footage to review an incident involving Brannigan and Fermanagh's Marty McGrath shortly after the Erne County had Daryl Keenan red-carded after only eight minutes.
Dan Gordon and Benny Coulter also look set to miss the clash with the Farney County, but they could return to action for the Ulster final should Down prevail.
Linden isn't getting carried away with Down's victory over Fermanagh. He was, however, impressed with their inside forward line, where the diminutive figures of Donal O'Hare and Conor Laverty caused Fermanagh no end of trouble.
"They are small guys but they are very clever footballers. They impressed me," Linden added.
Though the Mayobridge man agrees that their size may become an issue as Down progress in the championship, he insists the traditional tricky corner-forward still has a place in the inter-county game.
"On a dry day, that's fine. They are doing well, they're intelligent players. As the season goes on and you come up against the bigger teams, you mightn't be able to play as many of them as you are at the moment. Benny is still to come back in and he can lead the line there, but there is still a place for those type of players in the game."
Following the fortunes of the Down team is a nice distraction for Linden after the Newry Shamrocks team he trains were beaten by his native Mayobridgein the Down SFC.
Linden lined out for the club as recently as last year when he was 47. The trademark lightening pace is still there -- as he showed when he won the 60m Masters sprint last January.
Linden, who played at inter-county level until he was 40 -- a record that is unlikely to be broken -- thought about going back for another year at club level this time around, but will be watching more football than he'll playing, starting with the clash against Monaghan on Sunday.