Crunch clash for Down as Tailteann race hots up

By Niall Gartland

THE Down footballers are very much a work-in-progress but the main thing is that they are still in the chase for Tailteann Cup honours as they look ahead to this Saturday’s preliminary round quarter-final clash against Longford in Páirc Esler (7pm).

They missed out with automatic progression to the last eight with defeat to Meath last weekend, a narrow loss that nonetheless flagged up a number of problem areas in the team.

17 wides and only a point from play from their attacking six tells the story of a wasteful performance in front of the posts. If they can bring their shooting boots to Newry this weekend, they should fare better, but the question is whether they have adequate cover up front in lieu of the injured Barry O’Hagan and Andrew Gilmore.

Speaking after the Meath game, manager Conor Laverty acknowledged that they were the architects of their own downfall – “as a management team, we have to take responsibility, that was our job to get the players to the pitch and that wasn’t there today” – but he also accentuated the positives, namely the team’s character and application in training.

The Mourne men have crossed paths with Longford already this season, claiming a hard-fought 1-22 to 1-17 victory at the tail-end of the league. Longford ended up relegated into Division Four, but evidently there wasn’t much between the two sides and when they last met in the championship back in a qualifier clash 2016, Down were knocked out of the championship after extra-time, albeit a lot of water has obviously passed under the bridge in the interim.

The burning question is whether Down have the goods to make it to the deep end of the competition. As mentioned, the Down forwards had a poor day at the office against Meath. 17 wides doesn’t even tell the full story – most were from eminently score-able opportunities from a central position and if you don’t have lads who can put the ball over the bar, it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to pick up silverware. They were also outscored by 0-5 to 0-1 on the home straight with Meath’s subs making a much bigger impact than their Down counterparts.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom – their defence did well to limit Colm O’Rourke’s Meath to a total of 1-11 while young Odhrán Murdock is an absolute diamond. And if things had have panned out a little differently they could easily have won the game anyway.

Their opponents Longford won one of their three group stage matches, losing to Carlow and Limerick either side of a win against Wicklow. They’ve been racking up big tallies, averaging just over 20 points a game in their Tailteann Cup campaign to date, but if Down show improvements from the last day out, they should book their place in the last eight at the second time of asking.

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