James McCartan has stepped down as manager of the Down footballers after just one year in charge. The news was announced by the county on social media on Monday night.
It was his second term of office in the position and only arose because attempts to appoint a different management team, including Jim McGuinness, broke down. This made for a very late appointment, the difficulties involved in which McCartan said he was well aware of in an interview at the time.
Nonetheless he persevered out of a sense of duty to the county.
Ironically, the vacancy in the county arose because Paddy Tally also walked away at the end of last season because he felt that he hadn’t sufficient support from the clubs in Down. Tally has since gone on to link up with Jack O’Connor in Kerry and they won last weekend’s All-Ireland final.
From one of the county’s most distinguished football families — McCartan’s father Jim, who died nearly a year ago, had been a leading light in the great, breakthrough team of the 1960s — he won All-Irelands in his own right in 1991 and ‘94.
The past year in charge didn’t go well with relegation from Division Two with just a draw against Meath to show, followed by a heavy championship defeat by Monaghan and a swift exit from the new Tailteann Cup against Cavan.
There was also controversy when a disciplinary breach during a pre-championship training camp prompted him to walk away before being persuaded back.
Having been appointed manager for the first time in 2009, McCartan led Down to the following year’s All-Ireland final where they narrowly lost to Cork. The county was unable to build on that breakthrough although he did bring them to Division One of the league.
He then stepped up to get the county out of a quandary last winter.
During a press call on his appointment he said, “look, it is fairly clear James McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke were not the first port of call. We were asked and we were fully aware of what had gone before so the decision was there whether we wanted to take the job or not.
“We were fully aware of the process up to now and the decision we had to make was did we want to take the job under these circumstances or not and we decided to take the leap.”
He prophetically contrasted his two stints as manager.
“Better lead-in time. Time is short at the moment with the McKenna Cup due on January 5th so the task is a wee bit bigger. During the summer you could have been taking notes. That wasn’t the case this time. I was sitting there watching games on TV as a spectator so I’m a wee bit behind the black ball but I like a challenge!”
Asked did feel the pressure of the county’s heritage, he was realistic: “I’m not sure there’s pressure there because expectation isn’t there. The public in Down know where we’re at and it’s not where we want to be so we just have to put the shoulder to the wheel and change some of that.”
The statement from the county thanked McCartan for his service during the year.
“James McCartan has informed Down GAA of his decision to step down as manager of the county senior football team. James was first appointed to the position in September 2009, leading Down to an All-Ireland football final appearance in his first season.
“The county team also secured promotion to Division 1 in 2010 and an Ulster final appearance in 2012 during his tenure. In November 2021, he was once again appointed to the position, but after considerable thought during the past few weeks, he has decided to now step aside from the role.
“Down GAA wish to place on record our gratitude to James, Aidan O’Rourke, Ronan McMahon and the entire coaching and back room team for their work during the 2022 season.
“James McCartan will always be regarded as an iconic figure of Down football. He has given outstanding service to his county as a player and manager, and we wish him well.
“Cumann Lúthchleas Gael an Dúin will now commence the process to appoint a new manager.”