Down can dominate cup opener

By Shaun Casey

AFTER crashing out of the Ulster Championship at the hands of their fiercest rivals Armagh, Down will have swiftly switched all their attention towards the Tailteann Cup and ending the season on a high.

They showed enough against the Orchard County to suggest that they are one of the favourites for the second-tier competition and Conor Laverty’s men will be keen to go one step further than last year.

Down reached the decider in 2023 but Colm O’Rourke’s Meath proved too strong at Croke Park on the day and the Mourne men were sent packing empty handed, losing by seven points in the end.

They’ve made strides since then, earning promotion to Division Two although silverware again alluded them in the showpiece, with Westmeath this time rattling off two goals to claim the league prize.

Down followed that up with a win over Antrim before giving their all against Armagh with a tactical plan that very nearly pulled off one of the shocks of the year. Very nearly isn’t enough of course, but it will inspire confidence inside that changing room.

And if Down can run Armagh to a point, then they should have too much for Limerick, who travel to Newry on Saturday afternoon to get the Tailteann Cup competition up and running. They made the same journey in the league, and Down will be hoping for the same result.

That was back in early February so a lot can change inside three months, but Down’s 16-point winning margin in round two of the National League should raise hopes for a good start to the campaign this weekend.

Odhrán Murdock rattled off 2-3 for Down that day, including two penalties, while Daniel Guinness also hit the back of the net, a habit that has been the cornerstone of so much that make Down good.

It’s no coincidence that Down’s two worst performances of the years (against Westmeath and Antrim) have come when they failed to raise green flags. The two majors, however lucky, against Armagh kept them in the game.

Down chalked up 14 goals throughout the league and have enough men throughout their ranks to really trouble this Limerick defence- a Limerick team that suffered relegation and ended the league
with zero points to show for their efforts.

They will require an improvement in front of the posts from their go-to free taker Pat Havern however, who had an unusual off day against Armagh the last day out, missing three frees early in the game.

Down will also be without Barry O’Hagan who tore his ACL for the second time in successive seasons during the Armagh game while Niall McParland has announced his retirement from the inter-county game.

It’s unlikely that Caolan Mooney will return having spent the last wee while on the sidelines, but Liam Kerr should be a guaranteed starter after finding himself on the bench against Armagh.

It could be all one-way traffic and it’s hard to point to any area that Limerick could hurt Down. So, Laverty’s men should get their campaign up and running with a win.

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