Down far too long, Ulster medal would do nicely for Carr

Aidan Carr has vivid enough memories of 1994 and the role his father played in Down’s last All-Ireland success.

As a nine-year-old boy, he loved going to matches, but couldn’t understand why his dad Ross was a bit of superstar, nor could he appreciate summers like that would not come around too often.

“I remember bits and pieces about ’94,” he recalled.

“When you saw people coming over wanting his (father’s) autograph or wanting a picture taken with him, then the awe factor would kick in a little. You didn’t understand why all these people wanted to talk to him but as you get older you understand it and appreciate that he had great success.

“It’s just a pity I don’t have more recent memories.”

For a proud county like Down, it’s unfathomable that they haven’t won anything of note since. Two Ulster final appearances (in 1999 and 2003) have come and gone, and delivered nothing.

After a string of early round exits in Ulster, Down have an opportunity to try to get back into the provincial final if they can beat Monaghan in the Athletic Grounds tomorrow. The Mourne county have shown in recent years they are nervous favourites. They have lost games they were expected to win. Carr is aware it is a mantle this team has been uncomfortable with.

“It normally never works in our favour,” he admitted.

“In the qualifiers, in places like Wicklow and Offaly, we have struggled. I suppose it’s because it’s a division one team against a division two team that people are saying we’re favourites for Sunday, but Monaghan are much more experienced than us.

“Most of their players have played in one, if not two, Ulster finals. Benny (Coulter) and Kevin McKernan have minor All-Irelands, but the rest of our group haven“t won anything of note.”

“Beating Fermanagh the last day was important because we were favourites that day too. It’s something you have to learn how to handle and hopefully we are learning that now.”

There is no doubting their priority now. A provincial title is the number one target. For players like Carr, Dan McCartan, Liam Doyle, Ambrose Rogers and Kevin McKernan – whose fathers are part of Down’s rich tapestry and all won All-Irelands – the hunger to emulate them must be overwhelming at times.

Yet they live in fiercely competitive times, and even winning an Ulster title let alone an All-Ireland is a huge challenge to face.

Carr said: “It is far too long since Down won an Ulster title. There’s been great Armagh and Tyrone teams since, but, even so, it’s far too long. It would be nice to go back into the house at home and say ‘I have one too’.

“But we can’t look too far ahead or think about the Ulster final because too often we have fallen flat on our faces. Our focus is on Monaghan.”

The absence of talismen Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon to injury is a huge blow to Down, as Tommy Freeman is to Monaghan, although the latter is expected to feature at some stage.

Down lost a lot of forwards after last year’s disappointing campaign when Marty Clarke, Caolan Mooney, Ronan Murtagh, Paul McComiskey and John Clarke all left the panel.

Their absence gave an opportunity for players like Carr, who was a bit-part player in two previous ~seasons under James McCartan, to prove their worth.

“Not being involved definitely makes you realise what it means to you to be involved,” he revealed.

“This year is the longest run I’ve had in the team and I love being involved.

“It’s not just myself, others have got opportunities this year with the few players we lost. everyone upped it and worked harder.”

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