Negativity spreading as stagnant Down fall 20 years behind the rest - Hughes
Former Down footballer Danny Hughes has delivered a withering assessment of football in his native county, suggesting they are "20 years behind" in terms of strategic thinking.
Hughes, shortlisted for Footballer of the Year when Down were All-Ireland finalists just six years ago, believes the county's failure to put in place proper structures to plan for the future has caught up with them.
Their 19-point Ulster quarter-final defeat to Monaghan in Clones on Sunday was an 11th consecutive League and Championship defeat since they beat Laois in the final regulation game of their 2015 Division 2 campaign.
Following on from a 22-point defeat to Armagh in an Ulster U-21 Championship earlier this year, Hughes fears for the future.
He says the "negativity" in the county has seeped through to the senior squad, with the effect that so many just don't want to play any more.
"It's been stagnant for a long time. There has been no strategic long-term thinking. It's been too little, too late. we're about 20 years behind, 20 at least. That's no exaggeration," he said.
Hughes feels that legacy debt on Pairc Esler in Newry and a land bank purchased near Newcastle for a training centre which didn't subsequently get planning permission is weighing the county down too.
"When you add all that legacy stuff up we do not have a penny," said Hughes.
Down have been rolling out programmes in recent years such as the Mourne Academy but neither their minor or U-21 teams have been in an Ulster final in this decade.
Hughes fears the worst and sees the county slipping away.
"The top seven or eight counties are so far ahead of the remaining 24, it's actually frightening," he said. "We're probably Division 3 or Division 4. It would be interesting if Antrim drew Down in the Championship because Antrim could well beat Down.
"I'm not going to lay the blame on Mark Poland or Conor Maginn because they are really good footballers - the best players on the other team are picking them up and there's is only so much you can do with a forward line that is limited."
Hughes says he has sympathy for Eamonn Burns who took over as manager, only after extensive "pleading" from the board to take the job on after Jim McCorry's departure.
"To be fair to him he has put his neck on the line. There is nothing he can do," he said.
Hughes said the list of those who could make a difference but are unavailable due to injury and lack of interest could reach 15.
"The negativity has spread," he said. "The players in the county know that the county aren't going anywhere. They're saying to themselves 'do you know what, in this day and age when we aren't going to win an Ulster title, we're not going to win a League game, why would I give up my life? Why would I give up my holidays or give up going to America?
"The juice isn't worth the squeeze, and that's the bottom line."
Caolan Mooney opted off the panel, Marty Clarke hasn't returned since coming home from Australia, while the likes of Conor Laverty, Declan Rooney and Conor Garvey have drifted.
However Hughes has challenged his old colleague Clarke's contention that he wasn't asked to return to the Down squad, suggesting that all he'd have to do is turn up and he'd be "welcomed with open arms".