GAA Football

James McCartan return 'a brilliant choice' for Down insists Benny Coulter

James McCartan was last night confirmed as Down's new manager, returning to the post he held from 2009-2014. Aidan O'Rourke will be his head coach, with other backroom additions expected over the course of the next week
Neil Loughran

FORMER Down forward Benny Coulter is delighted to see James McCartan return to the Mourne County hot seat – and hopes he will have the best players in the county to choose from as he pulls together a panel.

McCartan was ratified as Down's new boss last night, with Aidan O'Rourke coming in as head coach. The Armagh All-Ireland winner was also McCartan's assistant with Down back in 2012. Other additions to the backroom team are expected in the next week.

During his first stint, McCartan came agonisingly close to landing the big one when he guided Down to the 2010 All-Ireland final in the first of his five seasons at the helm.

The Mournemen lost out to Cork by a point but remained among the contenders, reaching a National League semi-final and the Ulster final two years' later before eventually calling time in 2014.

McCartan's appointment ends a long search for a replacement for Paddy Tally, who stepped away on July 7 after he felt his request for a one-year extension had attracted insufficient support from county board members.

With counties allowed to return to training on December 7, and challenge matches or pre-season competitions permitted from January 1, McCartan has a small window to take care of business.

But Coulter - who picked up an Allstar for his performances during that 2010 campaign - believes he is the right man for the job as Down bid to retain their Division Two status and stave off the threat of Tailteann Cup football.

“James is a brilliant manager, he always surrounds himself with good people,” said the Mayobridge man, who recently took up the reins at Rostrevor.

“When he took us in 2010 he had Paddy Tally and Brian McIver in, then after that he had Aidan in, Niall Moyna… he always has a good team around him.

“James is a shrewd operator, he can read a game, he's brilliant tactically, knows how to set up a team and he gets on well with lads. It's a brilliant choice.

“He is a legend of Down GAA, the man who last brought us to an All-Ireland final, so I expect it will be well received by players. A lot of those men wouldn't have worked under James – probably just Kevy [McKernan], Darren [O'Hagan] and Benny McArdle.

“James will look after players, he knows what they want – he'll not be trying to get them in five, six nights a week. He knows players aren't robots, he'll work with them.

“If I was one of the players I'd be bouncing out of my boots to get playing for him. I've been managed by a lot of men through my career and James is probably the best manager I ever had. “All the McCartans are Down people through and through, and even now – the fact Down did struggle to get a manager – James has stepped up to the plate.”

And now that he has, it's over to the players, Coulter feels.

The turnover of players committing to the county was an issue even during McCartan's first spell in charge and, with little success to shout about since, continues to hamper Down's ambitions.

But Coulter – who was part of Paddy Tally's backroom team in 2019 - hopes McCartan can help get the best players in the county wearing red and black on a consistent basis.

“It's a short career and those boys who don't commit probably don't realise that when they do retire they might look back and think ‘I wish I had given more to Down football, I wish I had played more'.

“Obviously it's a combination of different things that's causing it - life, boys travelling, boys maybe not interested, maybe just wanting to stay with their clubs.

“The year I was in with Down, our four main forwards in the Championship against Armagh was Connaire Harrison, Pat Havern, Donal O'Hare, Jerome Johnston. Not one of them played last year.

“Jerome would be a great man to get back in, obviously he's with Kilcoo at the minute, Pat Havern, Connaire if he can get himself fit, Donal, those kind of men would be big additions for Down.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football