GAA Football

Following Eamonn Burns's exit, who is in the frame for the vacant Down job?

Eamonn Burns brought an end to his three-year term in charge of Down on Tuesday night and as the Mournemen begin their search for a new manager, Neil Loughran considers the contenders in the frame to succeed the Bryansford man…

Former Crossmaglen managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill were strongly linked with the Down job before Eamonn Burns's appointment. Picture by Mark Marlow

Tony McEntee

LOOKED a strong favourite for the job before Burns’s appointment in 2015, only for that to fall out of bed following a communication breakdown with the Down County Board.

An All-Ireland winner with Armagh on the field, McEntee has proven credentials on the sideline too after he and Gareth O’Neill led Crossmaglen to back-to-back All-Ireland Club titles in 2011 and 2012.

O’Neill, who was part of the McEntee ticket three years ago, has recently been involved with Down Division One club Castlewellan.

McEntee, meanwhile, has been part of Stephen Rochford’s backroom team in Mayo for the past three years, during which time they reached consecutive All-Ireland finals - just coming up short against the all-conquering Dubs on both occasions.

However, following Mayo’s Qualifier exit to Kildare last weekend, questions marks surround the future of Rochford and his backroom team. The timing may work for all parties.

Paddy Tally

LIKE McEntee, currently involved out west where Tally is part of Kevin Walsh’s backroom team in Galway.

Aside from the odd swipe by Joe Brolly, the Galbally man received plenty of plaudits as the Tribesmen finished top of Division One.

Galway carried that form into the Championship summer, making up for the ills of 2017 by beating Roscommon to the Connacht title last month as they head into the Super 8s full of confidence.

Having also led St Mary’s University College to the Sigerson Cup last year, Tally’s stock has seldom been so high. And there are obvious reasons to link him with the Down job.

Along with Brian McIver, he was part of James McCartan’s backroom team around the turn of the decade, and is very highly thought of among the players who worked with him during this time.

Several of the current Down side, including the experienced Kevin McKernan, passed through his hands at St Mary’s and, for many, he would be a popular choice.

Carlow coach Steven Poacher has been linked with a possible return to his native county

Steven Poacher

IN terms of column inches garnered during the past 18 months, none can compare with Poacher for the part he has played in Carlow’s rising.

Alongside manager Turlough O’Brien, the Newry school teacher has helped the Barrowsiders to promotion out of Division Four for the first time since 1985, as well as some noteworthy Championship wins – with none more impressive than their Leinster SFC toppling of Kildare.

As manager of Ballyholland Harps in Down’s Division One, he is well versed on what is available to the next man, and has never made any bones about the fact he would love to be involved with his native county one day.

Whether that is now though remains to be seen.

Confident and outspoken, Poacher has not always been flavour of the month with certain members of the Down County Board, and this could harm his chances.

Former Down star Marty Clarke is one of his many supporters, stating earlier this year: “The sooner he gets in to Down the sooner I think Down will consistently compete.”

It would be an interesting move if it came to fruition.

James McCartan led Down to the 2010 All-Ireland final during his time in charge of the Mournemen. Picture by Philip Walsh

James McCartan

EVEN though he didn’t win anything during his spell between 2009 and 2014, McCartan made the greatest strides with any Down team since Pete McGrath’s heyday.

Against the odds he led the Mournemen to a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1994 in 2010, and helped create a buzz around the county that now feels like a lifetime ago.

Got Down promoted to Division One at the first attempt, there was also an Ulster final appearance in 2012.

Assumed legendary status for his exploits on the field, particularly in 1991 and ’94, but his quiet, unassuming manner saw him liked and respected by those who played under him with Down.

Has served as minor manager since 2015 so knows what Down have coming through – it really comes down to whether or not he would want to do the job again.

Ruled himself out before Burns was appointed last time, describing himself as “yesterday’s man”, it remains to be seen whether his feelings have changed in the meantime.

Stranger things have happened.

Conor Deegan, an All-Ireland winner in 1991 and 1994 with Down, has been over the county's U20 side. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Conor Deegan

THERE have been strong whispers within the county that Deegan is seen as the next man for the job.

Considering the Downpatrick man is currently over the U20 side, is one of the heroes of ’91 and ’94 and has previously admitted his interest in doing the job at some stage, it is an obvious connection to make.

Returned home after 16 years in Dublin three years ago and was in the running for the senior position prior to the appointment of former team-mate Burns late on in 2015, before taking on the U21 brief as it was then.

Was immersed in the club football scene during his time in Dublin, enjoying spells with top flight giants Kilmacud Croke’s and Ballyboden, as well as Division Two outfits Naomh Mearnóg and Skerries.

Led the Down U20s to an Ulster semi-final this year, where they lost a 10 point second half lead as Derry battled back to win before going on to take the provincial crown.

Pete McGrath remains a hugely-respected figure within Down, having led the county to two All-Ireland titles during the 1990s. Picture by Philip Walsh

Pete McGrath

DON’T call it a comeback? With All-Ireland wins in 1991 and ’94, McGrath remains a hugely respected figure in Down, and there are plenty within the county who would support his return to the top job.

Lost out to James McCartan in 2009, having previously served two years as U21 manager before going on to take the minor reins, McGrath is a Down man through and through and would surely love another crack at the job.

But the Rostrevor man still has issues to resolve regarding his own future. Took over the reins in Louth last summer after the acrimonious end to his generally successful spell in Fermanagh, but all has not gone well in the Wee County.

They didn’t pick up a single win en route to relegation from Division Two, while the Championship brought harrowing defeats to Carlow in Leinster and, surprisingly, Leitrim in the Qualifiers.

Never one to walk away from a challenge, it would be no surprise if McGrath stayed on for another year. But if Down became an option, he would have some serious thinking to do.

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