No team had ever managed to claim a qualifier win within six days of defeat in one of the four provincial finals, but the 2010 All-Ireland finalists managed it with a little bit to spare against Tipperary on Saturday.
“The sooner it is gone the better,” said the winning coach.
“It is always going to be hard. We tried to chat to the guys Sunday night and Monday and let them home lunchtime to cocoon them away from the scribes that would be criticising them. We talked to them about the game (later in the week).
“We showed them a lot of clips of things that they done well and we showed them the chances that, had they taken — I know I am talking about the wrong game here but even the first ten minutes we had four wides – but we didn’t want that to be the legacy of this team.
“I have been in a lot of Down dressing rooms where we have been beaten in far off fields in the back door and so has Benny and Doyler and Big Dan, those guys.
“We didn’t want this to be the place that we were put out of the championship.”
Down travelled to Mullingar a tad fragile after their loss to Donegal, with Danny Hughes unavailable through injury, Benny Coulter at less than 100% fitness and facing a side seeking to breach the last eight for the first time after three straight victories.
It was, clearly, a date fraught with pitfalls but they made life easier for themselves by playing with the aid of a strong wind at their backs and duly amassed five unanswered points in the opening 23 minutes.
At that stage, it looked every bit like a game between sides that had played Division One and Three football last spring, but the gap narrowed to six points to four before the game’s defining score was landed against the Munster side on the stroke of half-time.
Kevin Duffin seemed to have misjudged the strength of the breeze when he launched in a long ball that bounced up and off one of the Tipp posts and back down into the danger area before Coulter applied the last touch amidst a confusing muddle.
Suddenly, a two-point deficit stood at five and, with the elements playing less of a role in the second period, Tipp failed to make a charge until the last dozen or so minutes when a seven-point deficit was cut briefly to three.
That was as close as they would get.
Down had done enough if not a lot more but McCartan was glad simply to tick the one box that mattered and return home in time for the quarter-final draw and start building towards Croke Park next week.
“Relief, mixed with being glad that the boys showed a wee bit of pride,” he said. “Everybody was tipping this as the shock of the weekend. We were determined that wasn’t going to be the case even if it wasn’t pretty at times.
“We said going into this game that it was all going to be about character and mental strength and the goal at half-time turned it in our favour and gave us that wee bit of a leg up that we needed. Playing well wasn’t really part of the occasion.
“We obviously shipped a lot of criticism last week.
“We felt for three-quarters of the game that we got a whole lot right but they got no credit for that.
“It is the last quarter that everybody remembers and rightly so. We have another opportunity to put that right again next week (against Mayo). We’ll obviously be underdogs but we will go in and have a puncher’s chance.”
They would have a better shot if Hughes were fit but McCartan claimed that was a “long shot” given he aggravated his injury when brought on against Donegal in the Ulster final.
Scorers for Down: B Coulter (1-2); M Poland (0-4, 1 free); A Rogers (0-4, 1 free); D Gordon (0-1); B McArdle (0-1); K Duffin (0-1 free).
Scorers for Tipperary: A Maloney (0-3, 2 frees); M Quinlivan (0-3, 2 frees); P Austin (0-2); B Fox (0-1); P Acheson (0-1); B Mulvihill (0-1).
Subs for Down: K McKernan for Carr (48); L Doyle for McParland (52); D O’Hare for McCartan (56); A Brannigan for Duffin (60).
Subs for Tipperary: B O’Brien for Ryan (35); B Mulvihill for Austin (54); R Costigan for Hannigan (54); M Dunne for Coghlan (62); J O’Callaghan for Kiely (62).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).