James McCartan hoping narrative follows 2010 script as Down prepare for big year

Division Two team-by-team guide ahead of the start of the league campaign

Down manager James McCartan expects to introduce some of the county’s under-20 side that won the Ulster title last year in this year’s Allianz League. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Down manager James McCartan expects to introduce some of the county’s under-20 side that won the Ulster title last year in this year’s Allianz League. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

James McCartan is under no illusions about life in Division Two. Having acknowledged with equanimity last November that he and his coach Aidan O’Rourke weren’t Down’s first-choice management, he’s just getting on with it, as Derry loom into focus this weekend.

There are injuries he has to cope with as well as the need to integrate some of the Ulster-winning under-20s from last year. And county champions Kilcoo are in the All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday. Even their opponents, St Finbarr’s of Cork have a Down player, Conor McCrickard.

At least this has positive precedents. “The first time Down teams were winning club All-Irelands was Burren in 1986 and ’88. Intercounty success wasn’t far behind in 1991 and ’94.”

He also has the baggage of being a McCartan with All-Ireland medals and most relevantly, a previous spell as manager when he got Down to an All-Ireland final in 2010, which they narrowly lost.

Locals are keen to know does he see similarities, just as he is keen not to encourage blind speculation that he might be able to emulate the achievement. Back then, they’d just been promoted to Division Two under his predecessor Ross Carr but were expected to drop down again. Instead they kept going, to Division One – and then reached the All-Ireland.

“We’re well down the pecking order in both country and province. We’re going to see if we can beaver away and make a bit of progress. You know, with the similarities to 12 years ago, it seems like a lifetime away.

“So it’s really hard to compare because once you start comparing them, people start talking about All-Ireland finals. And we know the great journey we had back in 2010, but you know how realistic is that?”

He says that survival is the starting point and estimates that as possibly four or five points from a programme that sees home advantage for four of the seven regulation matches, but he knows how capricious those forecasts can be.

“As a manager I’ve been relegated on six points and survived on four so you’re never sure what’s required.”

One thing is common with 2010 is the lack of confidence in their prospects. He’s heard it speculated that the last match against Clare may decide relegation.

“Hopefully that won’t be the case and we’ll have survived before that. It is nice having four home games and we particularly like having them here under lights on a Saturday night – I think it improves the atmosphere.

“Having four games at home is better than having four away and we want to try and target those, but every game is there to pick up a point or two and you have to approach every game as though you want to win.”

Down will have the services of a number of the successful under-20s from last summer. So far they have made a good impression.

“We’ve been impressed by some of the guys who have been playing under-20s football over the last couple of years. A lot of them got blooded in the McKenna Cup and we have a big weekend ahead of us as regards trying to finalise a team to play against Derry.

“A lot of them are putting their hands up and I would envisage some of them playing against Derry.”

The campaign ahead is important. When asked could he name a championship team or had he got a selection in his head, he answered said a lot.

“Could I pick a championship team that I thought we might play? I could. But I could be completely wrong! Will that team be taking the field against Derry? Probably not for various reasons. Then you have the young lads, who could come in and keep someone out. That’s why I want to get players out of rehab as quickly as possible.

“If some young lad comes in and plays well, he’s not just keeping the jersey warm for someone else.”

Clare’s Eoin Cleary impressed during last year’s league campaign. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Clare’s Eoin Cleary impressed during last year’s league campaign. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Seán Moran’s Division Two team-by-team guide

CORK
Manager:
Keith Ricken (1st year)
2021: Beat Westmeath in D2 relegation playoff and lost Munster final to Kerry
Opening fixture: v Roscommon (a)
All changed from the high of beating Kerry in 2020. New manager Ricken is realistic about strides necessary to get back to the top. Plenty of talent but physique and staying power still developing.

CLARE
Manager:
Colm Collins
2021: Division Two semi-final and lost Munster QF to Kerry
Opening fixture: v Offaly (h)
Colm Collins has achieved high consistency in the league despite disappointing recent championships. Last year, with Eoin Cleary firing, they touched on promotion.

DERRY
Manager:
Rory Gallagher
2021: Promoted Division Three and lost Munster SF to Cork
Opening fixture: v Down (h)
Seen as the coming team in Ulster, Derry nearly did for Donegal last year and won Division Three. Conor Glass was immense for Glen in their club run and they have plenty to build on.

DOWN
Manager:
James McCartan
2021: Beat Laois in D2 relegation playoff and lost Ulster prelim to Donegal
Opening fixture: v Derry (a)
James McCartan is a realist and pitched his hopes in the Premiership vernacular of “getting to 40 points”. Have potential and welcome back former captain Niall McParland.

GALWAY
Manager:
Pádraic Joyce
2021: Lost to Monaghan in relegation playoff and lost Connacht final to Mayo
Opening fixture: v Meath (h)
A definitively disastrous 2021 with relegation thrown in. Pádraic Joyce will welcome the return of normality, as things went downhill fast for Galway as soon as the pandemic hit.

MEATH
Manager:
Andy McEntee
2021: Division Two semi-final and lost Leinster SF to Dublin
Opening fixture: v Galway (a)
Meath looked competitive with Dublin in the championship (but who didn’t) and just missed promotion. Midfield problems deepen with injury to Bryan Menton but influential defender Conor McGill back training.

OFFALY
Manager:
John Maughan
2021: Promoted Division Three and lost Leinster QF to Kildare
Opening fixture: v Clare (a)
A great 2021 for the county with first promotion to top half in 15 years plus the under-20 All-Ireland gives way to a challenging season with a number of absentees due to injury and emigration.

ROSCOMMON
Manager:
Anthony Cunningham
2021: Lost to Armagh in relegation playoff and lost Connacht SF to Galway
Opening fixture: v Cork (h)
Have been a yo-yo team and face into another push for promotion. Hampered by club involvement in two All-Ireland semi-finals.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.