Clarke backs Mourne County to seal promotion

By Shaun Casey

ONE point is all Down need on Sunday to confirm their promotion to Division Two and a Croke Park date for a league final, but their opponents Clare are eyeing up that much sought after promotion spot as well.

Even in defeat, Down can get promoted if Westmeath happen to lose away to Sligo, but a win in Newry on Sunday would be much easier for the Mourne men, who have yet to taste defeat in the league.

Former Down player John Clarke, who played full-forward in the 2010 All-Ireland final, believes Down will secure promotion, although the county was disappointed not to have things wrapped up at this stage.

Conor Laverty’s side could only muster up a draw away to Westmeath last weekend, which means the pressure in on ahead of the final round.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Down were disappointed last year by missing out on promotion due to a couple of defeats to Fermanagh and Cavan but there’s been a huge focus on the importance of getting out of Division Three this year,” said Clarke.

“Things have been going pretty well in fairness. There was a bit of a bump on the road last Sunday in Mullingar, and they’ll not deny it either, they wanted to get things done last week and come up the road promoted.

“It didn’t work out that way and it wasn’t the best performance, but it just leaves a winner-takes-all scenario now in Newry this Sunday and it’s a good position to be in but there’s definitely a pressure on Down.

“It’s a Clare team that people probably didn’t expect much from this year, so the pressure is off them to a certain extent. Down are in a good position but if things don’t go well and it don’t go up, it’s going to be a huge disappointment.”

Having home advantage will be huge for Down however as they’ve been fairly impressive at Páirc Esler since Laverty took the reins. Of the last ten times they’ve played on their home venue, Down have won every single time.

In fact, they haven’t tasted defeat in Newry since the 2023 McKenna Cup semi-final loss to Derry which came via a penalty shootout. So, their unbeaten league run along with their record at home should see them enter the contest full of confidence.

“They definitely have a good record under Conor in Newry, and they’ll want to keep that going on Sunday,” added the Annaclone manager.

“I’m sure there’ll be a big Down support because everyone in Down knows the importance of it, Down want to be competing in Division Two and further into Division One down the line as well possibly.

“Sunday is huge because if they don’t get up then it’s going to be a setback and it could set the team back a couple of years but promotion on Sunday, then they can bounce into the championship with a real pep in their step.”

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