Down aiming for better Croke Park outing

By Michael McMullan

DOWN manager Conor Laverty feels his side are made for the open spaces of Croke Park but is hoping they do themselves justice on Sunday.

Last year’s beaten finalists face Sligo in the second half of a Tailteann Cup semi-final double header that includes Antrim’s clash with Laois.

Headquarters hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Down’s last two visits.

Since hitting Laois for eight goals in last season’s Tailteann Cup semi-final, they lost the decider to Meath and were also beaten by Westmeath in the Division Three final earlier this season.

“We’re delighted to get back,” Laverty said after Down’s quarter-final win over Wicklow.

“The last time we were there, we were probably very disappointed with our performance, so we’re looking forward to getting back there.

“I think this Down team’s made to play in the big open spaces, so hopefully we can get back there and give a performance to do ourselves justice.”

While their 2-17 to 1-8 league win over Sligo, despite the absence of Odhrán Murdock, helped them towards promotion, Sunday is different.

It’s championship and part of a passport to next year’s Sam Maguire shakeup.

“I see that Sligo’s going reasonably well,” Laverty said before knowing it was Tony McEntee’s team coming up next.

After standing toe to toe with Galway in Connacht, Sligo easily accounted for Tipperary and Wexford before being held to a draw by Antrim with Michael Byrne’s injury time equaliser.

Down knew Wicklow would take time to shake off. John McGovern’s goal sent them on their way with Shealan Johnston and Pat Havern also landing 10 points between them.

Laverty, now in his second season as Down boss, has used 39 players this season in total. The Tailteann Cup alone saw 32 different players step over the whitewash.

The Kilcoo man has given people chances. Players from his Ulster u-20 winning teams have begun to emerge.

“That’s what probably the group stages of the competition was for, to try to blood players,” Laverty said.

“Jamie Doran came in after the u-20s and got game time. Finn Murdock started the last day after a good run for the u-20s,” he added, also throwing in Ben McConville’s name after his offerings with Clonduff.

“We give a lot of players opportunities,” Laverty added. “That keeps your squad healthy.

“The boys know they’re not just there for the sake of it, that they actually have opportunities to go ahead and grab a place.”

The group stages were about polishing up their game with the goal of getting their best team on the field.

There was the satisfaction of having the strongest squad. Four of the subs introduced added a combined 0-5 total against Wicklow in a 1-18 to 0-12 success.

“I was happy with our points tally and the boys,” Laverty said.

“I thought our bench made a massive impact.

“It’s probably the strongest 26 that Down have named in my time, in the two years.”

Will it be enough to get back to winning ways at Croke Park?

Laverty hopes so. Time will tell the full story.

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