Barry O’Hagan of Down during the Tailteann Cup launch at Croke Park in Dublin.
Barry O’Hagan of Down during the Tailteann Cup launch at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Barry O'Hagan feeling positive about green shoots for Down football


By Paul Keane

These are difficult times to be a Down footballer, or so you'd imagine.

They're still chasing a first win in a competitive game since James McCartan returned for a second stint in charge yet Barry O'Hagan doesn't see it as any sort of failure. Far from it.

"I wouldn't say the season has been a complete fail at all," insisted the experienced forward. "If you go back throughout the league, I think we introduced something in the region of 22 players this year. We had seven debutants in the Ulster championship against Monaghan. That's all youth and positive for the development of Down."

The inaugural Tailteann Cup competition offers Down the opportunity to cash in on all that investment and to finally put a win, or perhaps multiple wins, on the board for 2022.

As one of only two teams in the new competition to have played in Division 2 this season, Down should be at an advantage and are brimming with excitement about the challenge.

The Round 1 draw has placed them in opposition to Cavan, a provincial derby game that will whet the appetite of both sets of supporters.

"Boys were happy when they heard the draw, it's not as if we want to get some other team," said O'Hagan. "We understand what Cavan bring to the table at this moment in time. Personally, I've watched them twice. They're a very, very good team. For us to develop correctly, you want to be playing the best and at this moment in time you'd have to say that Cavan are probably favourites to win the Tailteann Cup. We're probably going in as underdogs and that will suit us lovely."

Paul Conroy of Galway in action against Barry O'Hagan of Down during the Allianz Football League Division 2 match between Down and Galway at Páirc Esler in Newry, Down.
Paul Conroy of Galway in action against Barry O'Hagan of Down during the Allianz Football League Division 2 match between Down and Galway at Páirc Esler in Newry, Down.

This is O'Hagan's ninth season as a Down senior and while he just missed the relative success of contesting an All-Ireland final in 2010, and an All-Ireland quarter-final two years later, he doesn't count himself as in any way unfortunate.

He plays with his brother, Darren, for Down and believes that is a 'special' thing in its own right.

"It's just a special bond that me and Darren have and I think that when we're sitting back at 40 and 50, we'll look back and it'll be a proud moment to say that I got to play at the highest level with my brother," said the schoolteacher.

Plenty of great players go through their careers without lifting Championship silverware.

"Benny Coulter is a prime example," said O'Hagan. "Benny will go down as one of the best forwards in Down and Ulster and, at one stage, in Ireland."

The thing is, the Tailteann Cup now gives talented Down players like O'Hagan a realistic opportunity to win serious championship silverware in Croke Park. Both semi-finals and the final will be played there and as GAA President Larry McCarthy put it, any of the counties involved in the competition have the potential to take it 'by the scruff of the neck and march through the summer'. That's certainly O'Hagan's plan for Down.

"We have a great tradition," he said of the county's record of winning Ulster and All-Ireland titles, "but this cup could be every bit as good, all going well. We don't know how this competition is going to play out but from speaking to the GAA President, to lads from other counties, everyone seems to be committed and everyone wants to do well. Everyone's main goal is to win this cup."

McCartan deserves a break too, according to O'Hagan. The Down legend helped his county out by returning to the role late last November.

"James' door was knocked upon and James came and answered it," said O'Hagan. "Fair play to him. For me personally there is no better man at this moment in time to be in charge of Down than James McCartan.

"He has Down at heart and wants Down to do well. He is not just there for the sake of things. James wanted to come in and James wants to be winning. Every ball that is kicked, you know James is kicking them himself. He is a very passionate man about it."