'If Down get the best players on board, they won't be far away,' says former assistant-manager Mark Doran
THE Down County Board is doing the right thing by taking their time over appointing the next senior bainisteoir, says former assistant-manager Mark Doran.
Longstone native Doran, part of the Mourne county squad that reached the 2010 All-Ireland final, was part of Paddy Tally’s management team for the past three seasons. Now coach at Monaghan club Ballybay Pearse Brothers, he insists that the Down job remains an attractive proposition and has no doubt that Tally’s successor can lead the county to success, if the best players commit to the red and black jersey.
“I had three years I enjoyed very well with Paddy Tally and, as you see, Paddy is now linked with Kerry so obviously he is very well thought of,” said Doran.
“The Down players thought very highly of him and people sometimes forget that Paddy took over Down when they were in Division Three and he brought them to the second division and kept them there. Down are in a good place.”
Down were drawn into a relegation play-off in Division Two North last season but beat Laois comfortably to ensure survival in the second flight.
Despite that success, losing to Donegal in the Ulster Championship proved to be the end of the road for Tally and his team and Doran, who managed Castlewellan in his native county, moved on take the reins at Ballybay alongside Kilcoo’s Jerome Johnston.
Now that he has had the chance to oversee the Monaghan scene, Doran says there is little to choose between the counties at club level in terms of player-quality – commitment to the county jersey is the real difference.
“The standard of footballers in Down is as good as anywhere in Ulster but whenever I’m talking to a Monaghan players you can see that they really, really love playing for their county,” said Doran.
“I look at Ryan Wylie and Dessie Ward and boys like Drew Wylie, Paul Finlay, Chrissy McGuinness… First and foremost they are Ballybay men, they are great clubmen but they love their county and it would be great if we could get that in Down.
“We have a pile of players who love their clubs (in Down) but if we could get a pile of players who love their county it would be great. The U20s (Ulster champions in 2021) gave the county a great lift this year and if Down could get everybody in together and everybody pulling in the one direction they are not that far away.
“There has been a lot of negative stuff written about the Down job not being attractive… The Down job is still a very attractive job, make no mistake about it.
“The county board are doing the right thing by taking their time and getting the right man and if the right man comes in and gets everybody buying into it then I think Down will be in a good, strong place.”
Down were well beaten by Donegal in last year’s Ulster Championship but Monaghan pushed Tyrone all the way in the Anglo-Celt decider before time ran out on them. They lost by a single point at Croke Park and Tyrone went on to win the Sam Maguire with victories over Kerry and Mayo.
“From talking to the Ballybay lads, they were very disappointed – they felt they should have beat Tyrone and they were a kick of the ball away from winning Ulster,” said Doran.
“The Ulster Championship is still very competitive and it was great to see Tyrone win the All-Ireland because every other county in Ulster can say: ‘Look, we’re maybe not just as far away as we thought’. For a few years there all the talk was about Dublin and Kerry and people thought that Ulster had lost a bit of its spark but next year Monaghan, Donegal and Armagh will be thinking they’re not far away.
“Rory Gallagher has done a great job with Derry too and I still maintain that, if Down get the best players on board, they won’t be far away either.”