By Kieran Lynch
DOWN are looking to build upon a strong 2022 showing this season, and they begin their new campaign with an away trip to Antrim to kickstart the league.
Last season, Paul Donnelly’s team achieved their aim of staying in both the Division One league, and in Senior Championship, and he believes that the attitude and application of his side has been “first class” as they approach the New Year.
“That’s always the case,” he said, of looking to build on last year. “No matter what team that you’re working with, you’re always trying to improve on what went before, and that’s what we’re about.
“Since I have been involved in the management team, the attitude and application from the players has been first class.
“This year, we started training on the first of November, and we haven’t looked up since. The plan is to build upon what we achieved last year, and it depends on what way you look at it. It wasn’t a case of us “surviving” last year, it was a case of us achieving our objective, and we certainly did that.”
Down recently announced that Niamh Mallon of Portaferry will captain the senior side, with Ballygalget’s Deirbhile Savage selected as vice-captain, and Donnelly was full of praise for the duo when discussing why they were appointed to lead the team this season.
“They’re two exceptional players first and foremost,” he said. “But it’s what they do, both on and off the pitch which matters. They don’t need to be making big speeches or anything; the preparation they put in, the hits, the blocks, the tackles that they make, taking the scores when they have to be taken.
“That’s the type of leadership that is needed, and these two are just that – leaders.”
In their Division 1B group Down will face off against Antrim, Offaly, Wexford, Limerick and Waterford, with the trip to the Saffrons their first encounter.
The game is a repeat of last year’s Ulster Senior Championship final, which Antrim won 3-12 to 0-14, but Donnelly believes that if his team can work together as a team, they stand a good chance of success.
“From a management team’s perspective, we’re looking forward to the challenge of 2023 in both the league and championship, and that starts with Antrim this weekend,” said the Down manager.
“Really what we’re about is trying to deliver a team performance in every game that we play. If we can do that, we should come out on the right side of the result.”