GAA Football

'You couldn't have a better man for Down football...' Kevin McKernan delight at return of James McCartan

Kevin McKernan was an important part of James McCartan's teams during his first stint as manager. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile.
Andy Watters

THE passion he has for his county, his track record of success and experience of having been there and done it makes James McCartan the ideal man to bring success to Down, says Kevin McKernan.

McCartan’s return for a second spell as Down manager was confirmed on Wednesday and his Burren clubmate McKernan predicts that the double All-Ireland winner will bring the best out of the players at his disposal.

McKernan was in his early 20s when McCartan was initially appointed for the 2010 season and he played his part as Down came out of left-field to within a whisker of winning the Sam Maguire.

“I’m delighted James is in,” he said.

“He’ll bring that knowledge of what Down football needs and he has a huge passion for it. At the club you would see him when he was out for a walk and you’d be chatting to him and his talk was always about Down and how things were going. He was always intrigued so you couldn’t have a better man for Down football and I’m delighted he’s on board.”

McCartan and his assistant Aidan O’Rourke inherit a team that consolidated their Division Two status last year under Paddy Tally and his first objective will be to repeat that. County teams can return to pre-season training on December 8 so the new Mourne county boss hasn’t got long to compile his first squad but McKernan says the drawn-out appointment process won’t harm Down’s prospects next year.

“It’s not as if they’ve been sitting back twiddling their thumbs,” he said.

“There were other options they felt they would like to approach and the players were well represented by Mark Poland and Benny McArdle on board with the county representatives.

“They have put a lot of time and energy into it and they’ve come out with a very strong team with James and Aidan and I’m excited to see who else they bring in.

“The players will launch themselves into it because we were hearing that other counties were beginning to get things going and we’re no different, we want to get started.

“The boys can see there is something building. We stayed in Division Two and when James came in the last time that’s where we were and straight away he took us up to Division One which prepared us for being in that top bracket.

“I feel that’s where Down football is with the players that we have. Paddy Tally did a lot of hard work with us and he knows that the talent is there.”

Youngsters like Liam Kerr and Daniel Guinness found their feet at inter-county level during Tally’s three years at the helm. A talented group of U20 players is also coming through and McKernan is confident that McCartan will bring the best out of them.

“I’ve had a few conversations and the boys are delighted,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ll really appreciate it until they get in with James how much he loves Down football. It’s no different to Kieran McGeeney with Armagh or Brian Dooher with Tyrone, he wants the best for Down.

“In 2010 he transformed so many boys into the players he wanted. I remember Kalum King coming to training a couple of stone over-weight and James turned him into an Allstar contender.

“James always asked questions of me and made me a better footballer. I’ll always look back on that time with fond memories of the run to the All-Ireland final and because I felt that my game was in a very good place. That was thanks to James so I’m delighted that more Down players are going to receive the advice and guidance that he gives.”

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