Homework done on massive game for Down

August 24, 2010

All-Ireland semi Finals Down v Kildare Sunday 29th August at 3.30pm

Paddy Tally believes the Kildare management will have their homework done on Down ahead of Sunday week’s All-Ireland semi-final.

The Down trainer said: “Kieran McGeeney and Aidan O’Rourke would have a fair working knowledge of the Down players. Aidan would have coached a few of the Down players at Queen’s as well and him and James (McCartan) would have worked together at Queen’s, so there is a fair strong connection there. But we are under no illusions that this is a massive game for Down. We are into an All-Ireland semi-final and it’s probably the biggest game to win because once you are in the final, you really have a great chance to win it. But getting there is the biggest thing and we all know how difficult it’s going to be.”

He continued: “Last year, I thought Kildare were very close to putting Tyrone out, they were only within a kick of the ball really. So this is a decent Kildare team, a very disciplined Kildare team and they have been steadily improving. The backdoor system has suited them very well, they have got stronger as they have gone on and their second half display in the quarter-final against Meath was particularly impressive. They have a lot of good players, physical and strong and good athletes so they are going to be very formidable.”

Tally, who trained Tyrone to their maiden Sam Maguire Cup success in 2003, continued: “It’s great to be sitting in the All-Ireland semi-final but, to be honest, we never thought at the start of the year about anything but the first round game. Once the league went well, you are looking at the championship. We were very disappointed at losing to Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final as we didn’t do ourselves justice for large parts of that game. We kicked off great but then didn’t really push on. The focus was then turned on the backdoor and really getting things right for each game. The qualifier system is a great method as it lets you play and you recover during the week and then focus on the next opposition, quite like the league. It concentrates the mind and you have no distractions and, providing you can get through that without injuries, it builds up momentum. We have landed in the All-Ireland semi-final and really there hasn’t been too much thought about that until now.”

Down manager James McCartan is resigned to being without his captain, Ambrose Rogers, for Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Kildare. The Longstone midfielder suffered a ligament injury in a club championship game on 8 August and is virtually certain to miss the Mourne County’s biggest game since they beat Dublin in the 1994 All-Ireland final.

“Ambrose is seeing a specialist this week and, to be honest, we’re not expecting good news,” McCartan said at a media briefing in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel.

“Obviously, Ambrose is very important to us and there is that possibility you can tear on and take a chance. If you look at Dermot Earley’s situation (the Kildare midfielder has continued playing with a cruciate tear), he is 32 and is near the end of an outstanding playing career and maybe this is one of his last chances. Ambrose is a lot younger and you’d be putting the rest of his career at risk if he were to continue playing. But we’re preparing without him.”

James McCartan has defended his decision to impose a media ban of sorts on his Down players ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Kildare. He said rather tongue in cheek at a press briefing called to satisfy the media frenzy earlier this week: “It’s not meant to be disrespectful towards the media, but the worst thing a player can do is read about himself on a Sunday morning. So I’m looking forward to all of you having pin-ups of Kildare players next Sunday morning. That would suit me grand. No one wants to see massive features on their players, it’s distracting. It is just manna for opposition managers.”

Kevin McKernan would relish the chance to emulate his father Brendan’s achievement of winning an All-Ireland medal with Down. Brendan McKernan was corner back on the Down team that captured the Sam Maguire in 1991 and now, nearly 20 years later, his son is just 70 minutes away from also playing in an All-Ireland final.

“There is a tremendous buzz altogether within Down at the minute. My father keeps telling me it is even better than 1991. While we are looking forward to meeting Kildare we know that Kieran McGeeney will have them well fired up,” McKernan said.  “James McCartan has been insisting right from the very start of this year that we should never look any further than the next match and we are continuing to do just that.”

After an injury-plagued 2009, McKernan produced arguably his best ever performance in a Down jersey when he starred at centre-back in the sensational All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry. Looking to the Kildare game, he said: “Obviously Kildare have been racking up big scores so far but our defence has been playing well overall. If I am picked, it would be a great personal boost for me but I realise that competition for places in our team is very sharp, everyone wants to be in the starting line-up. I’m just one of a number of players looking to start in defence but I’m happy to be in the mix. We have beeen giving it everything in training for the last couple of weeks, no one wants to miss out if they can help it.”

Benny Coulter believes Down’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Kildare will go down to the wire.

“You can dress it up any way you like, I can stand here and say Kildare are hot favourites but real GAA fans know this is a 50-50 game, Kildare are a great side too. They play a nice brand of football and Johnny Doyle and James Kavanagh are serious players. I’m sure Kieran McGeeney will have them well up for it. Whoever wants it most on the day and gets a bit of luck could take it, but it’s a big opportunity for both teams. It would take a lot of hard work to get to this position again, so now is as good a chance as any.”

Coulter admits that Down have already surpassed expectations this year “I always felt we could get to an All-Ireland semi-final or final, but I didn’t think it would happen this year. Even getting to a quarter-final was a big step for us this year. Now we’re in a position where anything is possible. Who knows what can happen, there are only three teams left who can win the All-Ireland and we’re one of them. Obviously, the two favourites, Tyrone and Kerry, are beat so there’s an opportunity for a new team to come through.”

The Big Call for James McCartan and his advisors is how to replace team captain Ambrose Rogers. Such has been Rogers’ influence on Down’s journey to Sunday’s semi final that it’s a mammoth choice from relatively meager pickings.

The obvious selection is Peter Fitzpatrick who has spelled both midfielders, Rogers and King, at various times during the year and given McCartan’s outlook on the game as illustrated during the campaign it would be a surprise if he did not go for the straight forward selection. Fitzpatrick will bring ‘legs’ to the midfield and could best complement the powerful King.

James Colgan who unluckily lost his place in the defence and U21 prodigy Anton McArdle have been the other players playing centre field in a series of in house games and cannot be dismissed as potential replacements, Colgan would certainly add muscle against a strong Kildare combination.

It is highly unlikely McCartan will readily disrupt a defence that held the mighty Kerry to three miserly points from play so popular choice Dan Gordon will start at the back though could finish in centre field; Gordon is by now a former star County centerfielder and an established County full-back.

Elsewhere the team will be along familiar lines. Brendan McVeigh will be in goals with Dan Gordon on the square flanked by Daniel McCartan and Damian Rafferty. Kevin McKernan will retain the number six after impressive displays v Sligo and Kerry with his club captain Declan Rooney on his right and the blossoming Conor Garvey on his left. It’s Kalum King and take your pick at centre field, most likely Peter Fitzpatrick. Up front Martin Clarke and Mark Poland will play twin centre halves with Daniel Hughes, Benny Coulter and Paul McComiskey fluctuating alongside them. John Clarke will be the target man with one of the above named trio playing off him. By now the forwards have come to terms with the continuous rotation on the pitch and that understanding makes them as a unit more formidable than they are individually.

In the league meeting for what its worth and that’s probably not a lot, Kildare in Newbridge was a difficult opening assignment for Down. The Mournemen led 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time eventually winning 1-16 to 0-8 though Kildare had two men sent off in the second half for particularly over robust play. Martin Clarke’s precision passes unlocked the Kildare backs time and again with the early ball to John Clarke in particular causing Kildare’s defence lots of problems and Down’s support arriving at pace particularly Ambrose Rogers from centre field.