Home-grown trio in the frame as Down search for minor and senior managers

Conor Laverty guided the Down U20s to the Ulster title alongside Sean Boylan (left) and Marty Clarke
Conor Laverty guided the Down U20s to the Ulster title alongside Sean Boylan (left) and Marty Clarke Conor Laverty guided the Down U20s to the Ulster title alongside Sean Boylan (left) and Marty Clarke

SHANE Mulholland has ruled himself out of the reckoning to succeed his former team-mate James McCartan as Down senior manager.

Former Down U21 and Queen’s University bainisteoir Mulholland had been among the names linked with the role but the Ballyholland Harps clubman confirmed yesterday that he is not a candidate for the position.

As ever, the rumour mill was in overdrive over the weekend with a number of names – including former Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney being mentioned – but it looks likely that McCartan’s successor will come from a shortlist of home-grown candidates.

Club All-Ireland winner Conor Laverty, former Allstar Benny Coulter and Mark Doran have all been linked with the position and, with the wheels already in motion, the appointment of the new manager will top the agenda at next week’s meeting of the Down County Board.

Laverty guided the Down U20s to a breakthrough Ulster title in 2021 but is thought to be keen to extend his playing career with Kilcoo who will defend their county, provincial and All-Ireland titles this year.

Coulter, an Allstar in 2010, is currently manager of St Bronagh’s, Rostrevor and has forensic knowledge of footballers and the Down club scene. He was also part of Paddy Tally’s management team at county level.

And so too was Doran who was also part of the 2010 panel. The Longstone clubman is another sought-after coach and an experienced manager at club level in Down who is currently at the helm of Monaghan’s Ballybay Pearse Brothers.

Down’s stock has fallen over recent seasons but the senior manager’s post remains an attractive one for Mourne county natives. However, the new incumbent faces a massive rebuilding job and would ideally want to be in place before the start of the club championship season.

After prolonged efforts to entice Donegal native Jim McGuinness to take the role fell through last year, James McCartan wasn’t appointed until November and the two-time All-Ireland winner was always playing catch-up as a result.

McCartan’s team failed to win a game and relegation to Division Three was followed by an Ulster Championship mauling from Monaghan. Defeat to eventual finalists Cavan in the Tailteann Cup was the end of the road and McCartan stepped down last week.

His successor will inherit a panel low on confidence who will have to contend with Ulster rivals Cavan, Fermanagh and Antrim in the third tier next year and he will also have to address the issue of access to players from Kilcoo.

McCartan’s prospects were hampered by an inability to get his strongest team on the pitch. After their All-Ireland-winning exploits finished in mid-February, Kilcoo players struggled to commit to the county cause and goalkeeper Niall Kane was the only ‘Magpie’ in the team for the season-ending loss to Cavan.

Club-county friction is not unique to Down. Crossmaglen’s All-Ireland successes came either side of Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland title and Corofin’s three in-a-row (2018-2020) has made way for the success of the Tribesmen this season.

This season’s All-Ireland Club Championship semi-finals are scheduled for December with the final due before the start of the National League meaning that, should Kilcoo go all the way for the third year in-a-row, the new Down manager should have a better case for getting their players to link up with his panel.

Meanwhile, Down are also on the lookout for a new minor manager after Burren native Patrick Cunningham’s two-year tenure came to an end following two challenging Covid-affected seasons.