Defeats can fuel Down: Laverty

By Shaun Casey

IT’S small margins at the highest level and just over two months ago, Down proved their quality against Armagh in the Ulster semi-final, with the Orchard County shading the contest by the minimum of margins.

On the same day that Down compete in their second Tailteann Cup final in as many seasons, against Laois, Kieran McGeeney’s side will take on the challenge of Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final and are one game away from competing for the Sam Maguire.

A win for Down on Saturday would see them enter the race for the big prize next year, but if they had held on against their old foes that day in Clones at the end of April, they could have been competing a whole lot sooner.

Getting over those tough defeats isn’t easy, and that Armagh loss was just one of a number of difficult days Down have experienced under Conor Laverty.

They lost the Tailteann Cup final to Meath last year and this year’s Division Three league final to Westmeath.

Bouncing back is an admirable quality, and all the heartache will be worth it if Down climb the steps of the Hogan Stand this weekend.

“I suppose I’ve said before how young this panel is, most of them are between 20 and 25,” said skipper Pierce Laverty.

“We’ve had a nice mix in the last two years of some good wins and some bad defeats, so it’s a big learning curve for a lot of the boys here, especially when they are so young. To have that under their belt now, to feed that into the games going forward, is crucial.

“It’s an opportunity to win silverware on the national stage and if we overcome the losses against Westmeath and then go and do it this time around, it’ll be a massive learning curve and it’ll be great for the younger players especially.

“We are where we are and that’s in the Tailteann Cup. There’s no point saying we should be in the Sam Maguire last year or this year, we’ve had the opportunity to go and do that and we haven’t done it yet. We’re trying to maximise our performance to get over the line.”

Recalling the heartache of that Armagh defeat, the Saul clubman added: “The week after the Ulster Championship defeat, it was obviously a tough one to take.

“You’re maybe carrying it into the house and then to work. You’re moping about the place a bit and you watch it back and you can be disappointed in that.

“I suppose the message from the management when we got back to training was just to get back on the horse and get at it and get back to work.

“There’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves, we had to get back to work and that’s the only way to look at it. We had another game to win in two or three weeks’ time and we wouldn’t win it by sitting about feeling sorry for ourselves, so that was the driving factor.

“Everybody’s on the same page. You’d be chatting to the boys through the week, and we’d all be pretty close as a group, I’d consider all of us good friends.”

Expanding on his role as captain of the team, Laverty continued: “So anytime you are chatting to the boys you might have a wee word, but I suppose my role (as captain) is probably trying to get everybody right when they’re on the training field, getting everybody back together and getting back to our standards which we hold very highly.

“We want to maintain those high standards and drive them every time we’re on the field, so that’s probably one of my roles as a captain, to drive them every night.”

While the Mourne County haven’t exactly hit the heights of previous generations, there’s definitely a feel-good factor surrounding Down football at the minute, and everyone is excited about this team taking the next step.

“There’s definitely a buzz about the place, you can see there’s a lot more young ones running about in Down jerseys and at half time of games and after games,” added Laverty.

“The boys are all brilliant with staying behind and giving out signatures and gloves and having a chat and kicking about and all that.

“Even around my own club, when you’re driving to training and through different villages, you’re seeing kids in Down jerseys, and they might stop you down the street for a chat and that and it’s great to see,” the Saul man added.

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