FACING the All-Ireland champions in the opening round focuses the mind on the task in hand insists Clonduff manager Ciaran McBride.
In his second year in charge, McBride awaits the return of four of his squad after a summer with Chicago side Parnell’s and after their final league game against Burren on Friday night, a championship opener with Kilcoo beckons.
With Burren and Kilcoo already in next Tuesday’s Senior League final, McBride is just happy to have made the top four, away from any relegation mire.
The remaining eight teams have been scrapping it out to avoid relegation in Down’s new format that will see four teams drop to a new-look Division Two for 2023.
“There are household names in Down that are under pressure,” McBride said.
Clonduff went down 1-11 to 1-8 against Kilcoo in last year’s Championship before bouncing back in the Qualifiers to be pipped by a point at the hands of Burren in the semi-final.
The ‘Yellas’ have had to plan without Barry O’Hagan, Ross Carr, Paddy Branagan and John Boden for a chunk of the League and are expected back in the coming days, depending on flight back from the US.
He admitted that having players away does create problems, it opens the door for others to step in.
“Clonduff is a very progressive club, they have that development with young players coming into the senior setup and that’s been the case this year,” he said.
“We have brought in two or three very young lads and some of them are still at school…it gave a chance to others and that’s the way we looked at it.”
While admitting the draw of the All-Ireland champions Kilcoo isn’t the cards many want dealt to them, McBride feels any of the teams in the top four would’ve been a tough assignment.
“There is a big history between the two clubs,” he said. “We played them last year, it was a real battle for 45 minutes and it will be the same again.
“What it does very clearly, it focuses the minds. When you draw somebody of that standard, it tends to get everyone focused very clearly that everybody needs to be putting in a big shift to try and challenge Kilcoo.”
The champions are bidding for a fourth successive title and a tenth in 11 years.
Their name is regularly etched on the base of the Frank O’Hare Cup, but they’d been pushed to the pin of their collar along the way.
“People only see the big picture and who wins the championship, they don’t see the games that go on beforehand,” McBride said.
“It is very competitive. There are a big four if you look at league positions, but I can tell you, and it’s a bit like Tyrone, never bet against anybody in the Down Championship, some teams can produce the game of their lives.”
There is also the safety net of the ‘back door’ and McBride compares it to the Monaghan scene where Scotstown have been able to bounce back to take the title.
“Kilcoo haven’t been caught too often, but it gives teams a god opportunity to get a second bite at the cherry.”