By Michael McMullan
ULSTER champions Down enter the last chance saloon this weekend as they face a play-off to stay in the All-Ireland senior grade for 2024.
Down travel to Abbottstown (Saturday) 12noon to take on Offaly with the loser dropping down to the intermediate ranks for next season.
The Ulster side finished bottom a group that included Clare and All-Ireland semi-finalists Galway and Cork.
Down were drawn to face Wexford in last weekend’s semi-final with a first half goal from Aine Lacey keeping the Slayneysiders’ noses in front in a 1-16 to 0-15 win in Liatroim.
After being handed a testing group, a Wexford team that draw with 2022 champions Kilkenny was another touch ask. Down gave an excellent account of themselves, but without finding the net they were always going to be chasing the game.
Niamh Mallon hit 0-10 for Down, but they’ll need more of a cutting edge this weekend against Offaly who haven’t had a competitive game since finishing bottom of their group.
The Faithful conceded 10 goals in their three games and Down’s battle last weekend should sharpen the focus for their crunch game.
Down won their 21st Ulster title earlier this year and have enjoyed success at club level, but Saturday’s winner takes all tie could define their season.
The extra game and the nature of their performance will place Down as favourites to beat the drop.
Ulster’s other remaining team in the All-Ireland series aren’t in action until the following weekend, July 22
Derry take on Kilkenny’s second string in the intermediate semi-final in Thurles as part of a double-header with Meath’s clash with Westmeath.
In the junior competition, Armagh face Clare in Ashbourne. It’s a Banner side who knocked out Cavan last weekend, with Tipperary and Roscommon lining up in the other semi-final.
Derry haven’t won an All-Ireland since 2012 and a combination of injuries and players opting out of the the panel, manager PJ O’Mullan may have to dip into the younger members of this squad.
Armagh have lost the last two All-Ireland finals and under new manager Sean Hughes, they’ll not be short of desire to go one better.