Paddy Deegan has watched enough football in his life, going back to his sons’ first steps on the Downpatrick pitch, to seeing them win
All-Irelands in Croke Park. He belongs to a certain generation that preserve a more folksy notion of the nuts and the bolts of the game.
It’s something that his son Conor, a key component of Down’s All-Ireland winning sides of the ‘90s, struggles with particularly since he is at the coalface managing the county U20 side now.
“I have a father of 80 years of age who still regales about the team of the ‘60s and how football should be played,” chuckles Deegan.
“It’s very hard – it’s impossible – to change that mindset. I think everybody would love to go and play swashbuckling football and scoring heavily. That tends to not be the case. Most teams are a counter-attacking team, but that will change too.”
Old sentiments die hard.
In recent years, the Down county board have shied away from usage of the phrase ‘The Down Way’, after it became nothing but an empty platitude.
Still, after Paddy Tally took over as manager of the county senior footballers, it was almost the first question out of the traps to him. Will he *cough* be doing it ‘The Down Way?’
“I think when Paddy Tally came in, he said he was sick of listening to ‘The Down Way.’ I mean, what is ‘The Down Way?’” asks Deegan.
“The Dublin team who are potentially the greatest team ever, who if they win this year will be set in stone, they drop 13 players, 14 players back if they have to.
"It’s all in the gameplan though that they are going to break at maximum pace with everybody involved.
Tally’s own response to the question was that Down were synonymous with winning football; that’s all.
His approach may be alien to some in the county but should they avoid defeat to Louth in Newry tomorrow, they will be straight back up to Division Two at the first attempt.
County management was something Tally’s been involved in for decades, but not as number one.
That it came with Down was mildly surprising, but he had many friends in the county that had passed through his St Mary’s University teams and when Danny Hughes – an avowed fan of Tally in his previous role as a Down selector under James McCartan - was named on the sub-committee to select a manager to follow Eamonn Burns, the odds tightened.
What did Tally do next? Well, they were five minutes into injury time against Sligo and heading for their second league defeat in the opening couple of games before Caolan Mooney struck for a winning goal.
Thereafter, they managed injury-time winners against Carlow and Westmeath and defeated Longford and Offaly comfortably.
They may have the sixth meanest defence in all four divisions (Louth and Westmeath on five games are outliers) but it can be said he has been a Lucky General to date.
Anyone who watched his conjuring tricks with St Mary’s over the years in making them competitive will recognise his ability to make man-management an art form.
But he eschews pampering. When Connaire Harrison returned from his honeymoon he was sent on at half-time against Westmeath. Thirty minutes later he was heading for the sideline again. His replacement Jerome Johnston won a late mark that was converted to win the game in injury time.
“I know as a manager it is a difficult decision to make. If they are premeditated and done in that way, I think they work brilliantly because in that case, that is the wake-up call that players sometimes need,” states Deegan.
"That Paddy’s done that, whether he has designed it or not, he will reap the benefits of it. The county will reap the benefits.”
Starting this weekend.