‘Born and bred with the red and black’ – James McCartan ready for Down challenge

New manager knows he wasn’t first port of call but was happy to take the leap anyway

File photo of Down manager James McCartan. Photo: Russell Pritchard/Inpho

File photo of Down manager James McCartan. Photo: Russell Pritchard/Inpho

 

It has always been one of James McCartan’s strengths that he doesn’t labour under many illusions. On Friday morning he took a remote press call, convened to announce him as the new Down football manager.

The most obvious things about the new manager, aside from his decorated playing career, are his previous experience in the role for five years a decade ago and the fact that Donegal’s Jim McGuinness had originally been associated with the vacancy.

“Look,” he says, “it is fairly clear James McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke were not the first port of call. We were asked and we were fully aware of what had gone before so the decision was there whether we wanted to take the job or not. We were fully aware of the process up to now and the decision we had to make was did we want to take the job under these circumstances or not and we decided to take the leap.”

The first period in charge is 12 seasons back and it ended surprisingly well if disappointingly, in an All-Ireland final defeat - the county’s first - but the emergence from more or less nowhere to a one-point defeat by Cork measured an impressive distance.

Unfortunately the following years didn’t quite live up to that promise but he established them as a Division One team for a few campaigns even if they didn’t hit such championship highs again.

McCartan’s father Jim, a powerhouse of the first Down All-Ireland winning teams in the early 1960s, died in August and his son takes his legacy seriously. He makes no secret of his loyalty - almost duty - to the county. As he puts it, he was “born and bred with the red and black and the history my family has”.

This partly explains the almost detached way he treats the circumstances of his appointment. Last year Down won the Ulster under-20 title and manager Conor Laverty was supposed to be moving up to senior and bringing in McGuinness. When asked about his reaction to the rumours, McCartan is almost enthusiastic.

“To be honest it excited me that someone of that stature (was interested) and without knowing the details - I know Jim was talking to them and gave it a lot of time - it was unfortunate that it didn’t work out in the end.”

So now he and O’Rourke, his long-time football partner at both Queens and Down, have just under a fortnight before training is allowed to resume. It’s the main difference between now and 2009.

“Better lead-in time. Time is short at the moment with the McKenna Cup due on January 5th so the task is a wee bit bigger. During the summer you could have been taking notes. That wasn’t the case this time. I was sitting there watching games on TV as a spectator so I’m a wee bit behind the black ball but I like a challenge!”

McCartan believes in the county’s football stock but knows that a major herding operation is needed to round up the players he wants in a short space of time.

Does he feel the pressure of the county’s heritage?

“I’m not sure there’s pressure there because expectation isn’t there. The public in Down know where we’re at and it’s not where we want to be so we just have to put the shoulder to the wheel and change some of that.”

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