By Shaun Casey
DOWN may be out of the promotion race, due to the head-to-head advantage Cavan and Fermanagh hold, but that shouldn’t deter their intentions of finishing off their Division Three campaign off with a win against Offaly.
Following their winless 2022 season, the Mourne men have bounced back considerably this season under the stewardship of Kilcoo legend Conor Laverty and they’ll want to continue on their upward trajectory.
Down have a massive date with Donegal coming down the tracks in a couple of weeks’ time in the Ulster Championship so all their energy and focus will solely be on that for the foreseeable.
Not only are Down targeting their first win in Ulster since 2020, but the provincial competition also presents the only avenue to enter the race for Sam Maguire. Down have to get to an Ulster final to make the All-Ireland series.
If not, it’s the Tailteann Cup for 2023 and although that’s a competition Down would fancy their chances in, the proud history associated with the famed red and black jersey will always lure them towards competing for the Sam Maguire.
Even last weekend, when the ball was thrown in for Down’s clash with Longford, the Mourne men knew promotion was out of reach, but they still put in a credible performance and added another two points to their tally.
Down rested u-20 trio Ryan Magill, Odhran Murdock and Paddy McCarthy ahead of their upcoming championship campaign, a side that Laverty also manages, and he may decide to do the same this weekend.
The Johnston brothers, Jerome and Ryan, are back in the starting line-up and will require some more game-time, while Laverty rotated his goalkeepers, with Niall Kane replacing Charlie Smyth at half time.
So while the league is done and dusted for Down in terms of promotion, there’s plenty to play for on Sunday as they travel to Offaly, who are still in the hunt for promotion back to Division Two.
The Faithful County must win on this weekend and hope that Cavan, who have already secured their spot in the second tier for next season, overcame Fermanagh. That would see Offaly and Fermanagh on ten points each, with Offaly holding the head-to-head advantage over the Erne County.
It’s an opportunity for Down to continue their goal-scoring form as well as they’ve hit the net in every league game this year. Laverty doesn’t do backward steps so expect Down to be fully intent on winning the game.