Niall McCoy: You grew up in Donacloney and played cricket growing up, is that right?
James McCartan: I played cricket surely on the local green. I played for Donacloney at underage, I didn’t play any senior cricket as I was concentrating on the football by then. But yeah, whenever the summer holidays came I would have been down at the cricket green for any summer scheme. They would have had a professional batsman or bowler over every year. There was one from India, one from the West Indies, some of these guys were actually representing the West Indies at times. It was a big thing growing up in Donacloney.
NMcC: You were a Catholic family in a very Protestant area, was that ever an issue?
JMcC: It was surely. During the hunger strikes and things like that things became quite difficult. I always maintained that you had good people doing things that they normally wouldn’t do, good people doing bad things and being influenced by the times that were in it.
We had to change primary school because a very small minority, as always, didn’t want us to be there. There were threats of burning us out and bomb scares and things like that. I’d just like to stress that it was a very small minority and the vast majority were more than welcoming. We had a pub in the village and made our livelihood from it. My mother and father and family are still great friends with a lot of people down around Donacloney. We had a lot of good times down there.
NMcC: And for the vast majority of those, James McCartan senior was someone who ran the pub, not a two-time All-Ireland winner.
JMcC: I don’t remember him doing all of those things, he was a more a doggy man during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and the guys in the bar were more interested in getting a tip for a dog and getting a few quid in their pocket. My da would have frequented Dunmore Park, Lifford and Shelbourne Park in Dublin. He was equally as well known for dog racing as football when I was growing up.
NMcC: Did that take a bit of the pressure off you then? You didn’t have to live up to the surname certainly amongst those in your immediate community.
JMcC: The phrase ‘you’ll never be as good as your da’, I didn’t really come across that phrase until I went to St Colman’s College in Newry. The people we were living around weren’t quite as tuned into the GAA as other areas. It was in St Colman’s that I learned that phrase.
NMcC: That was actually going to be my next point, that the pressure definitely would have arrived at the College. No better place though to come through the ranks and you won the whole way up.
JMcC: I lost two games in seven years and the two happened to be MacRory Cup finals, so those were difficult. We had some really good players that represented Down and Armagh, Benny Tierney and a whole list of them. Special players. Of course, getting your picture onto the wall at St Colman’s was as big of a thing as the medals. They were good times with good players.
NMcC: You had a habit in your career of being involved in some absolute classics as a player and a manager, and the 1989 final loss to Maghera is considered possibly as the best MacRory match ever.
JMcC: We were maybe nine points up twice. Adrian McGuckin said to me a few years later, I had been bitching about losing that game and he said that things had evened themselves out. The previous year we went through three games, two replays. In the final game Maghera were hard done by. I fouled their goalkeeper while trying to block him, he pulled the ball back in from the kick when he saw me coming and I completely cleaned his legs. It was a definite foul but the referee didn’t blow his whistle and Tom Fagan put the ball into the net.
It was an injustice and as Adrian said, things evened themselves out and I had to agree with him on that one. It was 4-10 to 4-9 in that final and I thought we were the better team that day but I couldn’t disagree with his argument given what had happened the year before.
NMcC: Your second goal that day, was it the best goal you ever scored?
JMcC: I’m not sure. Whenever I was playing football there weren’t that many games televised and the only games you have records of are Down championship games and MacRory Cup finals and things like that. It’s probably one of the best ones I’ve seen on tape. I could tell you I’ve scored several more brilliant ones but they weren’t recorded – so nobody could argue with that!
NMcC: You already had an All-Ireland title by that stage from 1987 with the minors. You were young, but Cork knew your threat and Damian O’Callaghan stuck to you like glue. Just the one point but plenty of assists, I’m sure that was a great day as a young player?
JMcC: At that stage I was lucky enough to be coming through St Colman’s and winning at most levels. The previous year we had won the Ulster but were well beaten in an All-Ireland semi-final by Galway so we had a point to prove the following year. We were on the rack at half time in the semi-final against Kildare and looked to be going out. We managed to turn it around and that was probably the five-star game of that campaign.
The final was a dour affair. Again Tom Fagan scored the goal that got us over the line. He again produced the key score. Without playing overly well on the day we got over the line. That’s hopefully a sign of a good team.
NMcC: Fast-forward to 1990. You’re a Down senior now and you get an All-Star in your first year. That’s rare, so how did that happen?
JMcC: It’s your first year, you’re under the radar, you’re not getting the best corner-back, Mickey Linden is engaging with him. The best defenders are going somewhere else. That gave me a wee bit of extra room with people not knowing exactly who I was. They haven’t analysed you on video or know what you have in your locker.
It was a good year, we got to the National League final and were beaten by Meath. That was probably key to the success the following year because we had always been able to compete with Meath in the league. They won that 13 points to 11, or something like that, so there was very little in it. We felt that we could compete with the big teams and getting to that National League final was key. We had three games in the championship and got beaten in a replay by Armagh.
I maintain that I got my All-Star in Australia. The press picked them in those days and I bought them plenty of beer in the bars!
NMcC: That Australia trip was part of a busy year, and you won a Sigerson that season too, top-scored in the final, with Queen’s. Dessie Ryan was over you and it’s amazing how many future All-Ireland winners he worked with.
JMcC: Dessie just has that knack of having a rapport with players and getting the best out of them – getting inside their heads. Hopefully I’m not doing an injustice to the group of players who won the Sigerson that year, I hope they take this as a compliment, but at that point there was very few who had any inter-county experience. Dessie got a lot out of them and then a lot of them went on to be county footballers.
You talk about a team being better than the sum of its parts, and Dessie was the master of that. The players he had through the hands that would go back to consult him and ask advice, the Kieran McGeeneys, the Anthony Tohills, Enda McNulty, Justin McNulty, the list goes on. All these guys would hold the man in awfully high esteem, and rightly so.
NMcC: I was looking at your two Sigerson-winning teams, that second one in 1993 was definitely more star-studded. Kieran McGeeney, Paul Brewster, Anthony Tohill, Cathal O’Rourke, Paul McGrane.
JMcC: The first one was probably the bigger achievement because of the maxing out of the players. Trying to gel all those big names together was a different test. There were the so-called stars and then there was the fact that you didn’t get to see them that often because they were all training with their counties. It was a different challenge to try and get a bit of team spirit going.
Probably the best Sigerson team I played on was the previous year when we were beaten by Galway in Galway in the final. We had all those names and Joe Brolly and Fergal (Logan). We’d had a stellar team but came up short.
NMcC: Back in 1990 and that Australia trip you mentioned. It’s a week after your 20th birthday and you’re going to play for your country with Eoin Liston and Jack O’Shea. I’m sure that was some experience for such a young lad.
JMcC: It was the trip of a lifetime. Winning football matches and medals is all great but, to be honest, if you were to ask me where my medals are I wouldn’t be sure. I would cherish more the trips like the 1990 one to Australia and the All-Star trip in 1990. Having experiences with people who are like-minded and are as dedicated to the sport as you are. We all seemed to be able to go out and bond without knowing each other previously. The weapons were set down and the bonds were stuck up.
Even the 2010 All-Star trip when I was out as a manager of one of the teams, just seeing the lads engaging and having fun was great. The Cork and Down boys had knocked 10 bells out of each other in an All-Ireland final and then went on an All-Star trip and some of them were inseparable. The 1990 trip to Australia was probably my best experience playing Gaelic football.
NMcC: Some of the meetings prior to that 1990 series had plenty of violence and I suppose having the Grimley twins with you helped, but was there any fear of that side of it?
JMcC: To be honest I was relishing it. My game-time was limited because I was young and Bernard O’Flynn and Kevin O’Brien were the go-to forwards at the time. Even with the limited game-time I had, the experience was right up there with the best. With regards the physicality of it, maybe naively that didn’t bother me. I stress the word naively.
NMcC: You were with Tir Chonaill Gaels in London at that time and you picked up a London Championship.
JMcC: The Gaels knew that if everything went to plan they should win London and get out of the UK Championship. The big thing for them was trying to get over the line in an All-Ireland quarter-final. We pulled Lavey in Ballinascreen and that would be right up there with the biggest disappointments in my whole football career. They were geared up to go win that game, they’d given everything, no stone was left unturned. I was working in London that year during the summer holidays. I was on a break from university so I transferred over. Those boys had a great bond and it was home from home. The GAA in London was a link to Ireland.
We were three points up against Lavey going into injury time and I do feel aggrieved about it. I don’t want to take anything away from Lavey because Collie McGurk, a member of the 1990 Sigerson team, will carry the head off me. They went on and won the All-Ireland, and full credit to them, but on that day I was going up the sideline with the ball trying to waste time and I ended up in the dug-out. I was aggrieved I didn’t get a free, a line ball was awarded and the ball went into the square and into the net.
We probably should have taken them back to London for a replay but we agreed to extra-time and came up short. The people of Lavey still talk about that game being equally as important as winning the final in Croke Park.
NMcC: All-Ireland success did arrive with Down the next year though in 1991. I know you’ll be modest about your own involvement but that front six – Linden, Mason, Blaney, Carr, Withnell and yourself – it has to be one of the best to ever grace a football pitch. However, after the first game, that famous day in the Marshes against Armagh, it certainly didn’t look like that.
JMcC: It was brutal stuff that day. Obviously conditions weren’t great and Jim McConville had a chance to put us out of the championship. Fortunately he missed it but the famous quote from that day was “you couldn’t pick a decent team between them.” You could understand that.
During the ‘80s Down were always tipped as one of the teams to win an Ulster but would usually come up short for whatever reason. They played most of their football in Division One during the ‘80s and had top scorers like Brendan Mason and Mickey Linden in the National League, but come the championship Down just didn’t seem to be able to perform as a group. That looked like it was going to continue.
It was probably the two Derry games that allowed us to turn the corner. It gave us that bit of belief. Ross Carr put over an unbelievable free in the first game to keep us in it. I think Greg Blaney was sent off in the first game. Now Greg was a good hurler, had played hurling for Down, but he wasn’t a member of the panel in my mind that year. We got him reinstated very quickly because the hurlers were playing the following week and the replay was put back another week, which allowed him to be free to play.
NMcC: You didn’t score much going into that All-Ireland final with Meath, was there a bit of pressure on you then?
JMcC: Eamon Connolly, a teammate in Queen’s, gave me the nickname ‘0-0’ at one stage. A term of endearment he maintains, but I’m not so sure. The three goals in the MacRory Cup final were probably the exception rather than the norm, I was never a great scorer in the mould of a Mickey Linden or a Brendan Mason. I would have accumulated a lot of free-kicks that would have helped the free-takers out, but I had only scored three points in the whole championship before the All-Ireland final – at least I managed to double it in the final.
I probably had a quiet lead-up to the final, second year syndrome. I hadn’t been playing overly well. Again Mickey Linden, Peter Withnell who scored two goals in the semi-final, they maybe took the attention off me and I flew in under the radar. Robbie O’Malley was supposed to mark me, that didn’t happen because he got injured. Brendan Reilly, who went on to win an All-Ireland at full-forward, was playing corner-back so maybe I got the rub of the green and everything fell into place that day. It was fantastic to get those points and to win the All-Ireland.
NMcC: The day after at the Burlington you said that everyone on the team knew that Eamonn Burns and yourself were the worst point-takers on the team, surely you weren’t that harsh on yourself?
JMcC: I’m sure I probably made that comment tongue in cheek but I was never a prolific scorer. Eamonn Burns certainly wouldn’t have been renowned for his scoring but he put over two of the best scores of the game. Whenever the Down players talk about that game, as we often do, we remember Eamonn’s two scores. The grace, the power and the fact that he never broke stride. Then he didn’t even acknowledge that he had scored when he was running back into position, it was as if he was doing it every day.
NMcC: Would there be one memory from that final that sticks out for you?
JMcC: There were probably a couple of wee strange things. I swapped my jersey after the game, which I regretted after. That was back in the day when the crowds were allowed on the pitch. When the final whistle went it was great to get slapped on the back and told you were a great fella, but whenever hundreds of people are trying to do it at the same time it can be a squash.
I didn’t see the end of the presentation. I squeezed out under the Hogan stand and down the tunnel and made my way back to the dressing rooms. Because I was wearing a Meath jersey, the amount of people who said ‘hard luck’ and commiserated was unreal. I got more slaps on the back that I didn’t really need. I was able to get back to the dressing room very, very easily because everyone thought I was on the losing team.
NMcC: 1992 and ’93 were write-offs though, particularly that hammering from Derry in ’93. Pete McGrath did a scathing interview afterwards and Greg Blaney and yourself left the panel, is that right?
JMcC: No, I didn’t leave the panel until maybe the last National League game before Christmas. I could stand to be corrected but I think Greg was back at that stage too. I remember him being away for a number of weeks but Pete was very shrewd and he appointed DJ Kane as captain and he was a controversial enough appointment I suppose because he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and sometimes Pete maybe didn’t like that. It was certainly a wise move because DJ was more than fit to handle myself and Greg and get us back on board.
NMcC: For yourself was it tension with Pete or were you just unhappy with the whole thing?
JMcC: Without getting into too many details there were probably decisions that I wasn’t happy with. At the same time I felt I wasn’t playing well and needed to get my head showered. Yes, I didn’t agree with some of the decisions but I didn’t make that public, I didn’t make a big deal out of it at all. The tipping factor though was that I wasn’t playing well and I needed to get away. A break seemed to freshen me up.
NMcC: If you looked at a team now that had players walking away and were coming off a hammering from their rivals, you wouldn’t in a million years tip them to win the Sam Maguire a few months later. That famous game in Celtic Park in 1994 against Derry just seemed to set you off.
JMcC: That game could have gone either way, it was nip and tuck. Fergal McCusker stuck the ball in the net and it looked like it was going to be curtains for us. Mickey Linden was having a magnificent day and I think he scored six from play – he was basically unmarkable. People always talk about his telepathic understanding with Greg (Blaney) and they were on fire. Greg was feeding the ball in and Mickey was turning and whether it was Tony Scullion or Gary Coleman, they couldn’t stop him.
Big Gregory (McCartan) will probably give me a punch to the head when he reads this but big Gregory missed a couple of frees that day that Gary Mason mightn’t have missed. I’ll be hiding from Gregory now! Big Gregory was magnificent apart from that, Conor Deegan did a great job on Anthony Tohill, you’ll never contain Anthony and the Derry midfield completely but they did so well. Neil Collins pulled off a magnificent save to keep out Anthony Tohill.
It’s very rare you’d go from nowhere in the All-Ireland thoughts to favourites after one game. We knew that if we didn’t win an All-Ireland after beating Derry then it would be failure. That was a tough enough burden to carry, the expectations were high right up until All-Ireland final against Dublin.
Because the All-Ireland was played in such terrible conditions, it wouldn’t have been seen as the classic the Derry game was. There was probably not too much credit given to us after winning that final, most of the counties wanted Dublin to win it. In ’91 the whole of Ireland was saying ‘it’s great to see Down back.’ In ’92 the whole of Ireland was saying ‘it’s great to see Donegal there.’ In ’93 the whole of Ireland was saying ‘it’s great to see Derry there.’ In ’94 they said ‘not these feckers back again?’ Dublin deserved the All-Ireland was the chime in ’94.
It wasn’t classic game but I just don’t think we got the credit we deserved. We had a reputation, and still probably do, for not performing in the rain. It was as big of an achievement for Down to get over the line in those conditions. We had good forwards but most forwards like a dry ball and it certainly wasn’t a dry ball that day.
NMcC: I was going to ask was it a more enjoyable season given that you weren’t on fire in ’91 but you were in ’94 and won that second All-Star. But it sounds like it was a more pressurised environment.
JMcC: In ’91 the thinking at a young 19 year old was ‘Jeepers this is the first All-Ireland, I wonder how many we can back for?’ I took things for granted so in ’94, after what happened in ’92 and ’93, you appreciated it. There wasn’t that unrivalled joy of ’91, more a sense of achievement that you had managed something through hard work and graft and knowing the pressure there was. Seeing DJ lift the cup was special because the drive that he had given the team, and the leadership.
We put three years’ work into that All-Ireland. You mightn’t see it, but if you lose in the first round or whatever in ’92 and ’93 you’re still losing to a team like Derry who were right up there. Derry, Donegal and Down were right up there and the teams that were beating you were going on to win Ulster Championships and going on to win All-Ireland titles. But you were dumped out and went from hero to zero very quickly.
There was no backdoor to get back to an All-Ireland quarter-final to prove that you were still a good team. I remember going to functions in 1995, opening of summer schemes and things like that, as an All-Ireland champion but already out of the championship. You were knocked out in the month in May. Back in those days your achievements from the previous year could be quickly forgotten about.
NMcC: And you were playing with Glenavon at that stage too in the Irish League, how was that as an experience?
JMcC: I went to Glenavon after we were beaten in the championship in ’95 by Donegal, probably in the month in the May. I was clicking my heels as I had been used to play MacRory, Sigerson, training four or five nights with teams. I used to play a MacRory Cup game on the Saturday morning, come home and play 90 minutes for Donacloney Football Club in the afternoon. On the Sunday then I’d play for Tullylish. So I was going from that to maybe only having one game a week or every fortnight.
I had turned down the opportunity a few times and then I was asked to go over and play a bit for Glenavon and I did. It was always secondary but Pete told me that I couldn’t do it. If Pete had left me to my own devices I would have drifted back to the Gaelic a whole lot earlier but when someone told me I couldn’t do something that meant that I would do it.
I was a bit-part player at Glenavon, filling in when people were injured at full-back and on the right side of midfield. I went from the hunted in the GAA to the hunter in the soccer. In other words, I was allowed to kick somebody else in soccer and I wasn’t the target. I certainly enjoyed being able to dish it out rather than being on the receiving end all the time.
I had great times at Glenavon and the fact that you had two games a week most weeks was brilliant. In the GAA you train for four weeks to play one game in the championship, crazy things like that, but with the soccer you were guaranteed games. It was a decent Glenavon team at the time, I think they played in three Irish Cup finals in-a-row and you had Lee Doherty and ‘Spike’ (Glenn Ferguson) and all these boys who were household names. I called those years the fun years.
NMcC: You mention Tullylish there and the transfer to Burren in 1998 got a bit messy. Looking back now, how do you view it with wise eyes?
JMcC: Looking back retrospectively I wouldn’t be happy with the way I handled it. I probably was naïve. I was moving to house between Warrenpoint and Rostrevor and I was advised that you could play for any of the teams in the parish, which was, I think, Rostrevor, Warrenpoint or Burren. I opted for Burren but seemingly that rule had been changed numerous years earlier, but I had already made my bed and said I’d go to Burren. It took a while to get over the line but I certainly don’t regret where I ended up playing my football. It would have been nice if the thing had gone a lot more smoothly.
NMcC: Despite playing with Burren, a Down Senior medal is basically the only thing not on your CV. You were unlucky to meet a Mayobridge golden side, but I’m sure it’s one of your biggest disappointments?
JMcC: That’s obviously one of the reasons you play with Burren, to win things and to play at the highest level. I think Burren stopped winning things nearly as I arrived so I was a bit of a jinx. It is a disappointment but I’m still a member of the Burren club, my children play their football there, I have managed them and every day I pass the field. I would like to have a medal or two to compliment that but it wasn’t to be.
NMcC: At that time on the county scene, Down were dipping and Armagh were emerging as a serious force. You obviously knew the likes of Kieran McGeeney, Benny Tierney, Paul McGrane, Cathal O’Rourke and others. We know what the Down supporters would have thought, but how was Armagh’s rise as a player?
JMcC: I probably wouldn’t be typical. I didn’t grow up having a big rivalry with Armagh. Donacloney was close to Lurgan, our postal address was Lurgan. I would have swam in the swimming club out in Brownlow in Craigavon, I would have boxed for St Peter’s in Lurgan. I represented Armagh in the Community Games at Butlins. I would have had a big affiliation with Lurgan and Armagh people. My father nearly played for Clan na Gael at one stage, it was the closest club way back in the day when Tullylish hadn’t formed.
I went to school and university with a lot of their players so I didn’t have that anger or disappointment when Armagh were winning things. I might have been jealous, but that is certainly a different feeling. I had no animosity to Armagh doing well but I’d say a lot of the boys I played with wouldn’t have had the same feelings! Growing up with Benny Tierney and the boys in the College, I took pleasure in seeing them win, albeit tinged with jealously.
NMcC: On Armagh, how serious was the potential transfer to them?
JMcC: Put it like this, I was asked and I was interested because Down had made it clear that they weren’t interested because they wanted to turn over a new leaf. Once I knew the Down story, that there was no chance of a new chapter for me, I was asked and everyone wants to be wanted. Once it was pointed out to me that I would have to change clubs to do it, and it probably took me a while to win people over in Burren and be accepted, I wasn’t going to turn round and move clubs.
Even though the lure of playing of inter-county football was there again, I wasn’t going to do that. It was a big decision, I had to go through a lot to get the Burren transfer over the line so I didn’t want to go through that again.
The opportunity was there but as I say it’s the biggest positive thing in Armagh that James McCartan didn’t go and play for Armagh. Could you imagine if Armagh won the All-Ireland and I was playing? You would have gotten no credit whatsoever. The Down people would have had it over you ‘they couldn’t win it with their own team so they needed to get a Down man in!’
NMcC: When you did finish up playing management seemed a natural fit, and it was at Queen’s where you made your mark. I talk about you being involved in some of the greatest matches, St Colman’s and Maghera, Down and Derry, but you were manager when Queen’s beat Jordanstown in the 2007 Sigerson final and that must be one of the best Sigerson games ever played. It must have been a great weekend for you having lost a few finals previously.
JMcC: Three years previous we came up just a bit short and we were hard done by in a couple of the finals, losing to Sligo after extra-time in one of them. Aidan O’Rourke came in and it would be remiss of me not to mention Aidan. He brought something fresh and different to it in ’07 and helped get us over the line.
It went to extra-time, it was a classic game. There were some great players on both teams, Gerard O’Kane and Kevin McGourty, and it was two good teams going at it hammer and tongs. Whoever came out on top, you couldn’t have complained but we got the rub of the green.
I remember being asked after the game what does it mean to win my fourth final and I said ‘it means I can leave.’ They kept using the fact that we hadn’t won it as the reason for coming back so that was my ticket out of there!
I have very fond memories of it. Those times in Queen’s were very special and will never be forgotten. There are Whatsapp groups still going. Back then I didn’t know what Facebook was but one of the brothers must have got me onto it so I ‘m still able to see what some of them are up to.
NMcC: That success, of course, was one of the main reasons why you got the Down job then in 2010, and I’m sure that was just a glorious year to be in charge even though it ended with that All-Ireland final loss.
JMcC: Like my playing career with Down, my managerial career took off like a house on fire. We suffered a defeat to Tyrone in Casement but we recovered in the backdoor. We improved at every step. Every team we drew seemed to be the right team at the right time and there was incremental improvement in the teams we faced and that allowed us to build and grow and get a bit of confidence.
There were some unbelievable days out that year. There are things that are maybe forgotten like going to play Sligo who had beaten Mayo and Galway in the Connacht Championship. The six-day turnaround is always cruel and they only had six days to get ready, but we put up a big score against them to set us on our way to Croke Park.
Down had two special records to protect, never losing an All-Ireland final, which I managed to mess up, but we did manage to hold onto our record of never losing to Kerry in the championship. I’m still clinging to that one at this stage.
NMcC: I watched that back recently and it was a hammering. You won by six but Kerry’s goal came right at the end.
JMcC: We were nine up and they scored a penalty in injury time to bring it back to six. They had complained about a disallowed goal but we had a goal disallowed for Paul McComiskey. They probably didn’t know that much about Down at that stage and our games wouldn’t have been televised the way the Kerry games would have been. We were able to sit down and look and we knew all about their forwards.
They were missing a couple of key men, Paul Galvin and Tomás Ó Sé, but they still had plenty of All-Star and All-Ireland winners on the field so I don’t want to take anything away from our boys. They put in an extra special performance that day and came out on top.
NMcC: You mentioned Paul McComiskey there and there was always a bit of a rumour that he wasn’t meant to be substituted in the final against Cork and it was a mix-up on the line. Can you clear up if there was anything to that?
JMcC: No. We had boys on the bench – and I can’t actually remember who came on for who – like Rony Murtagh who had come on against Sligo and scored 1-5 or 1-6. He came on against Kerry and scored three points. He came on against Kildare in the semi-final and scored three points. He came on in the final and scored one and he slipped another time and if he hadn’t have slipped he would have stuck another one over the bar. We had men on the bench who were always going to come on. Now you can argue about whether we got the subs right or wrong but we had men that we knew that could make a difference.
Whether we took them on for the right men, that’s for you guys to debate, but there was no mistake along the line.
NMcC: Was one of the hardest things as Down manager the fact that Dan was there and no matter how he played something was thrown at you about nepotism?
JMcC: Yeah that was always knocking about, there is no point saying anything different. I had Dan with me basically all my years in Queen’s so I knew what he was capable of.
There were plenty of boys in the Down dressing room and the Queen’s dressing room, Dick Clerkin, Micheal O’Rourke, Gerard O’Kane, if they thought a man was getting picked because of favouritism they wouldn’t have been long letting you know.
I don’t think the likes of Brian McIver or Paddy Tally or Aidan O’Rourke or Niall Moyna or Jerome Johnston are going to allow something like that to happen to the detriment of the team.
I remember two years in-a-row after getting put out of the championship, I think it might have been Cork one year and Mayo the next. Brian McIver was with me one of the years and Aidan O’Rourke the other. We hadn’t started Daniel in those games and both of them rang me up the week after to tell me that I had made a mistake. I hadn’t picked my brother because I had gone the other way. I think they were probably right but that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong.
NMcC: Aidan coming in as an Armagh man, I’m sure plenty of Down fans had thoughts on that but was it hard to sell that to the players?
JMcC: No, not at all. Aidan came in with a good reputation and he won the respect of the guys straightaway. Aidan doesn’t suffer fools lightly and he’ll play you with a straight bat. That’s all a player wants, honesty. Aidan wasn’t long winning them over or putting them in their box, whichever one they wanted.
NMcC: Could you pick a favourite moment from your time managing Down?
JMcC: Maybe the experience of the All-Star tour in 2010 and mingling and learning more about the players playing at the time.
On the field, the All-Ireland semi-final against Kildare and just the way that match ended. Even the colour, I’ve mentioned this a few times in interviews but the red against the white of Kildare I felt visually was a magical scene.
We came out on the right side and that was cruel for ‘Geezer’ and Aidan, who were with Kildare, but there was so much joy. Kerry and Kildare, those two days will live long in the memory.
NMcC: Lastly, you finished up with the Down minors after five years in January and you spoke of getting into the slippers and finishing up. Surely James McCartan will be back managing at some stage?
JMcC: You can never say never. The way things are going at the minute with Covid I am glad I am not in charge of any team and worrying about Zoom calls. I’m old school and technology would be alien to me. You never know what the future holds but the fire would need to come back into the belly.