By Niall McCoy
DOWN defender Niall McParland has said that the Mourne County need to end their long wait for silverware as they look ahead to a Tailteann Cup campaign that has them ear-marked as one of the favourites.
Down went out at the first stage last year as they lost heavily to Cavan, but a new group format adds extra intrigue this season – and a home opener against Waterford on Saturday should provide an achievable route to an opening two points.
Conor Laverty’s side may just be getting started, but Down football generally carries big expectations. One senior title since their 1994 All-Ireland success – a McKenna Cup triumph 15 years ago – is a poor return for a county steeped in a winning tradition.
“That’s far too long for a county like ourselves,” the Glenn man said.
“Maybe where we think we should be and where we are are two very different places….every year it’s getting harder and harder and Ulster is so competitive.
“One of the big teams takes a step back and somebody else is there so you have to be really on it to get a trophy.”
Despite their heavy Ulster semi-final loss to Armagh, McParland feels that Down are rapidly heading in the right direction.
He puts much of that down to Laverty’s ability to erode some of the club tensions that may have existed in the Mourne changing room in recent seasons.
“Armagh had a team like Kilcoo in Crossmaglen and when a club team is really successful in a county then everyone else is envious of them,” McParland said of the club dynamic within the county.
“Down couldn’t attract a lot of the Kilcoo players because they were so involved in Kilcoo but Conor coming in opened everything up and he knows the Kilcoo players so well and they’re winners.
“It’s naturally in them and they’ve been winning for 10 years so to have lads like that around training is brilliant.
“You have thoughts about people, ‘I don’t like him on the pitch’ or whatever, but once you train with them and eat with them after training you realise that everybody is pretty similar. We’re all GAA people and normal lads and the walls quickly come down and you build good friendships.
“There are lads from Kilcoo I didn’t know until this year and now I would call them friends.
“That’s just the way it goes and it can only be positive for our squad,” he added.