National Football League Division Two
Down v Clare
Sunday, Páirc Esler, 2pm
By Shaun Casey
THE unimaginable became reality last weekend when Cork hammered the final nail into the Down’s coffin and confirmed their relegation from the second division.
The Mourne men fought valiantly to remain in the fight for survival, but their four-point loss sent them tumbling to not only Division Three, but to the Tailteann Cup.
Unless they can gather some momentum from somewhere and rattle off a couple of championship victories to make their way to the Ulster final, Down are out of the running for the Sam Maguire trophy.
Can they turn it into a positive? Perhaps a successful run in the Tailteann Cup offers Down a better chance to build for the future, which they clearly need to do.
They have the counties Ulster winning u-20s from last season coming through and bleeding them in against lesser opponents and getting them up to speed with senior football is possibly just what Down need.
But leaving Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday evening, it was hard to see any upside. Stephen Sherlock’s first-half goal opened up a bit of daylight between the teams, during an otherwise tight opening period.
That lead was stretched to four midway through the second half, but a Tiarnan Rushe goal offered a lifeline for the visitors.
It wasn’t to be however, as the Leesiders outscored James McCartan’s men 0-7 to 0-4 for the remainder of the game.
That leaves this weekend’s clash against Clare a real dead-rubber as the Munster men have nothing really to play for either. Technically they can still be relegated but they’d need Offaly and Cork to draw as well as leaving Newry with one of their heaviest ever defeats.
Despite their one-point defeat to Meath on Sunday, they’ll finish mid-table no matter what happens, out of the promotion race and settled just above the relegation zone.
All that’s at stake this weekend is pride. Down head into the last round of games still searching for their first win of the campaign.
The closest they came was against Meath, when they left Navan with a share of the spoils, but they have yet to get over the line.
It’s been a tough journey so far in 2022 and the fixture schedule didn’t do much to offer any hope for the Down supporters.
They were always unlikely to get much change out of Derry or Galway in the first two rounds and started off on the wrong foot with two defeats.
But it was their one-point loss to Offaly, at home, in round five that really signalled the teams dramatic demise.
A win on Sunday would help build some much-needed confidence before the opening round of the championship against Monaghan and brighten up the dull feeling surrounding Down football at the moment.