Barry O'Hagan says Eugene Branagan's assertion that the Down football panel lacks a "winning mentality" has not entered the minds of him or his teammates.
Branagan, who won the All-Ireland club football title with Kilcoo in February, was named Club Footballer of the Year earlier this month. He has never played at inter-county level for Down, nor does he have any ambition to do so in the future.
"Freedom of free speech, if that’s what Eugene thinks, I am not going to comment on that," O'Hagan said on Monday at the launch of the Tailteann Cup.
"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."
Following Down's 10-point defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster Championship late last month, a result which means they will play for the Tailteann Cup rather than go into the Sam Maguire qualifiers, O'Hagan called the second tier competition "pointless", and added that he has "very little interest in it".
"Well that was probably within five minutes of our defeat against Monaghan, a heavy defeat," said the Down forward as he rowed back on those comments.
"My own performance that day was bitterly disappointing. I thought maybe if I had kicked even two or three 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."
On Monday, Down were drawn to face Cavan in the Tailteann Cup's first round. They will do so without five players who left the panel in the wake of the defeat to Monaghan. The Irish News reported last week that captain Caolan Mooney has joined Ryan McEvoy, Gerard Collins, Charlie Smyth and Corey Quinn in leaving James McCartan's panel.
"There is a few boys, don’t tell you a lie, have walked away and again personal reasons and I’d love to forward your number to them if you want to have a chat with them!" said O'Hagan.
"Of course yeah, I can’t disclose. It’s their own decision.
"There are 15 boys [who] started against Monaghan. Probably most likely it’s going to be a different 15 boys start against Cavan. That’s not down to boys leaving. That’s down to boys playing well, boys picking up knocks.
"I could go out tonight, kick a ball and pull a hamstring, it’s just as easy as that. Teams will always change. It’s not down to players leaving. It’s people on form playing on the day."
O'Hagan added: "[The Tailteann Cup] is a chance of more silverware. When you win, you gel better as a team, or so I’m told, I haven’t experienced that yet.
"It brings a good bit of momentum and with a bit of momentum you never know where you could go. Hopefully that starts with Cavan."