National Football League
DOWN V LEITRIM
Saturday, Pairc Esler, 4pm
DOWN coach Mark Doran is convinced that this week’s return to action will provide a number of eyebrow-raising results, and he just hopes that the Mourne county aren’t amongst them as they welcome Leitrim to Páirc Esler on Saturday.
If this match had been played on the date it was supposed to have been, it would have been as close to a lock as Down could have hoped for. Over seven months have now passed since that original fixture though, and so many variables have been added to the contest.
For that reason alone, Doran is urging more caution as the side attempt to make up for last year’s league slip-up when they allowed promotion to somehow slip out of their grasp with a round seven loss to Louth in Newry.
Doran wasn’t involved then, but that shock reversal will provide Paddy Tally with the perfect tool to demand full concentration for the clashes with Terry Hyland’s Leitrim and their trip to Louth the week after.
“I think that this first week back is a real tricky one,” said the Longstone man.
“Any kind of momentum built up six months ago is completely out the window. I don’t know about Leitrim but I know we have had a few personnel changes and injuries.
“We have a lot of new boys in too. Training has been going well but we have done no fitness work, it’s just been football. We have done a pile of football.
“But I have no doubt that the results are going to throw up a lot of things that are going to raise eyebrows. I just hope Down are not one of those.”
Six players have been added to the squad since their final league game – March’s 0-17 to 0-9 win in Offaly.
Kilcoo’s Shealan Johnston has been added to the panel while his brother Ryan has rejoined the set-up. Club mate Ryan McEvoy, Gaelic Life Young Player of the Year in 2019, has also been asked in by Tally as has Dylan Ward.
Liatroim’s Conor McCrickard and Steven Fegan from Burren are also now involved and Doran feels that it’s a certainty that there will be a few changes from the side that took care of the Faithful county with such ease.
“Paddy made it perfectly clear that anyone who performed well in the club championship would get a chance.
“He has done that, there are six new boys into the panel. It’s always nice to have that freshness there.
“There’ll definitely be three or four changes. Some people who were in form six months ago are not in the form they were. People off the boil six months ago may be back playing well.
“You have to play the boys in form. It’s as simple as that. You can’t wait on a fella to find form the way it is this year.
“Our last game against Offaly was a great performance but there are boys who played really, really well that day who may not start now because their form isn’t just where it should be.
“It’s tricky one too because it’s their first game together in six months.”
Tally will be without a number of players this week with Kevin McKernan, Pat Havern, Benny McArdle, Connaire Harrison all unlikely to be available while Darren O’Hagan is also set to miss out.
They are potentially big losses against a Leitrim side that will need at least one win in their final two games to avoid an instant return to Division Four.
All three of their points to date have come on the road, the side opening with a draw in Derry that really should have been two points before they beat Louth well in Dowdallshill.
“I came up against Terry two years in-a-row at u-21 level,” said Doran. “I was training Down and he was over Cavan and he had them in great shape. I think Leitrim have a great management team in Terry Hyland and Jason Reilly.
“Leitrim got a point in Derry and any team that goes to Celtic Park and scores 1-14 must be doing something right.
“In their last game they went and scored 3-14 against Louth. Looking at the numbers from that game, Ryan O’Rourke scored 2-4 from centre half-forward. Ryan O’Rourke would get on any team in Ireland.
“I just know from past experiences coming up against Terry that they will be in good shape. We’re fighting for our lives and they’re fighting for their lives.
“We’re going into an unknown. No spectators, everyone is back at the one time, no games in six months. Anything could happen and it’s just about concentration.
“It’s a massive game for Down but it’s also a massive game for Leitrim. We have to be ready.”
By Niall McCoy