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Branagan's withering remarks on lack of winning mentality 'hasn’t got inside' the Down camp

Barry O’Hagan confirmed a number of players have departed James McCartan’s panel ahead of the Tailteann Cup.

Down's Barry O'Hagan.
Down's Barry O'Hagan.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

DOWN STAR BARRY O’Hagan has rowed back on his comments that the Tailteann Cup is “pointless” and said Eugene Branagan’s withering remarks about the county set-up hasn’t infiltrated the camp.

Shortly after Down were dumped out of the Ulster SFC by Monaghan, O’Hagan dismissed the new second tier competition and said he’d much prefer to be preparing for the All-Ireland qualifiers. 

“Well that was probably within five minutes of our defeat against Monaghan, a heavy defeat,” said O’Hagan at yesterday’s Tailteann Cup launch in Croke Park.

“My own performance that day was bitterly disappointing. I thought maybe if I had kicked even two or three (points) we might have been in it at that stage. Look, it was probably emotions and stuff like that that got into my head.

“I was a wee bit disappointed and one of the questions I was asked was, ‘Would you rather be in the Tailteann Cup or an All-Ireland qualifier?’ So that’s what made me make that comment and go down that route.

“Look, at the end of the day, we are where we currently are at this moment in time with Down. If we put our heads together for this cup and try to develop our team, it can be beneficial for us in the long run and that’s what our stand is now and hopefully it will go that way.”

Kilcoo defender Branagan created a stir last month when he claimed the core of the Down squad don’t have a winning mentality and argued that the culture in the squad has discouraged his club-mates from joining James McCartan’s county panel. 

“Freedom of free speech, if that’s what Eugene thinks, I am not going to comment on that,” responded O’Hagan.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

“If that’s what he thinks, that’s fair. It hasn’t got inside our camp and we are all pretty happy – and that’s part of it.”

Ryan McEvoy, Gerard Collins, Charlie Smyth, Corey Quinn and Caolon Mooney have all reportedly departed the Down panel ahead of the Tailteann Cup.

“There is a few boys, I won’t tell you a lie, have walked away and again (it’s for) personal reasons,” said O’Hagan.

“I can’t disclose. It’s their own decision. I won’t comment on them.

“Teams will always change. It’s not down to players leaving. It’s people on form playing on the day.”

O’Hagan said the Down players are fully behind manager McCartan.

“We started on the back foot,” he said. “We’ve tried our best to overcome that. James’ door was knocked on and James came and answered it.

“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 himself.

“You can ask him yourself. He’d have Down at heart and wants Down to do well. He is not just there for the sake of things. 

“James wants to come in and wants to be winning. Every ball kicked, James is kicking the ball himself. He is a very passionate man about it.” 

Relegation from Division 2 and a heavy beating to Monaghan means it’s been a poor season so far for the Mournesiders, but O’Hagan is looking at the positives.

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“I wouldn’t say the season has been a complete fail. If you go back through the stats throughout the league, I think we introduced something in the region of 22 players this year through league football.

“We had seven debutants that day against Monaghan. So again, that’s all youth and wellbeing for the development of Down. Yes, on paper, we might not have won a game but at the same time we developed players and putting them players through that aspect of having those defeats might boost them for later on down the line.

“So that when we do start to get this ball rolling properly that they’re well equipped for it and that they’re able to then share the dreams of victories then.”

Despite the recent upheaval, O’Hagan says Down are excited by the challenge of facing Cavan, who they drew in the first round of the northern section. 

“Boys were happy, it’s not as if we would want any other team. At this stage now we’ve been drawn against Cavan, we understand what Cavan have 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 there’s no point saying otherwise, Cavan are probably the favourites to win the Tailteann Cup. We’re probably going in as underdogs and that will suit us lovely. We’ll prepare for them as best we possibly can.

“We could have drawn Waterford away and the questions would have been would there have been many Down fans travelling down to Waterford. Whereas the fact that we’re only over in Breffni Park might instigate that some Down fans are going to go and maybe the neutral spectators in Ulster, like yourselves, will maybe end up going up to it.

“If there’s the possibility of a live (TV) game it’s going to give a bit more buzz around the county. Hopefully we can put up a performance that day as well.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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