JAMES McCartan doesn’t promise trophies, what he does promise Down supporters is “hard work and sweat and tears” at every stage of his second-coming as manager of their county.
The highlight of his first spell (2010 to 2014) was the 2010 All-Ireland final and there was also promotion to Division One, an Ulster final and a National League semi-final and fans will hope for more of the same from ‘Wee James’.
Of course he wants that too – and he has returned to try and deliver it - but experience has taught him how hard success is to earn in the inter-county game.
“We’d be delighted if we could bring some sort of success back to the county,” said McCartan yesterday.
“Silverware is something that we’ve been missing for a long, long time and we’d like to be able to promise the people of county Down that it will be delivered but that’s not the way it works. All I can promise is that there’ll be hard work and sweat and tears to see if we can move the boat in the right direction.”
From a family steeped in the Down football tradition, McCartan has a CV many other county managers would die for but he left his ego at the door when he was invited to return to the Mourne helm. Other men had declined the job before McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke agreed to help Down in their time of need.
“We were approached months ago about this,” McCartan joked.
“We are just delighted to be the county’s number one pick! Look, it’s fairly obvious that James McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke weren’t the first port of call but that’s neither here nor there; we were asked and we were fully aware of what had gone on before.
“The decision we had to make was whether we wanted to take the job under these circumstances or not and we decided to take the leap.”
Gaelic Football has changed markedly since McCartan’s successful career ended in 2003 and even since he stepped away as Down manager seven years’ ago just as Dublin’s period of dominance was about to begin. However, he is confident that he has kept up to speed with modern set-ups and practices and says the Mourne county has the player pool to improve and compete.
“I think there are footballers there,” he said.
“There are footballers we are going to try and improve and there are one or two outside the panel who have been travelling, or ill, or working, or whatever who we will speak to and try and get them back on board.
“Kilcoo have players who we hope we will have access to and it’s the same in the rest of the county – Burren, Clonduff, Bryansford… We think there are always good footballers in Down.
“In the past a couple of big marauding midfielders – a couple of Dara O Se’s – would have helped us out but I believe that when Down players get the ball in their hands they’re quite able to compete.”
Back in 2010 he had the time to prepare himself and a squad that included Benny Coulter, Danny Hughes, Marty Clarke and Kevin McKernan for what lay ahead. This time around he has been thrown in at the deep end with a Division Two campaign, that starts against Derry and Galway, looming.
“Time is short trying to get things ready for the McKenna Cup so the task is a bit bigger,” he admits.
“Previously during the summer I would have been watching county championship games and taking notes with a view to picking a panel. That wasn’t the case this year – I was sitting watching games on Pairc TV as a spectator. I’m probably a bit behind the black ball in that respect but everybody loves a challenge.”
Down fans will hope that McCartan’s second stint as their county’s manager delivers success and if his team starts to win and excite then there will be massive interest in the men in red and black. But the low level of expectation means there isn’t a lot of pressure on the former Tullylish and Burren forward.
“The public in Down probably know where we’re at, they know what our stature is in Ulster and we’re not where we want to be, we’re going to have to put the shoulder to the wheel and change some of those expectations,” he said.
“There are a lot of teams ahead of us, a lot of teams have more work done – not just for this year but over previous years – and we feel we need to do a lot more with our development squads etc.
“We have a lot to do but we’re here to do it.”