Newry know-how to see Down pass Treaty test

By Shaun Casey

A GENERAL rule of thumb for the league is to perform at home and capture maximum points and anything earned on the road is a bonus. Well, Down started their campaign on the front foot.

Heading to Aughrim looking a result is never an easy thing to do but Conor Laverty’s side passed that first test with flying colours and focus will now swiftly switch to the challenge of Limerick this weekend.

Down made Newry a real fortress last season when they just missed out on promotion to Division Two, finishing in third position behind Ulster duo Cavan and Fermanagh, losing out on the head-to-head ruling having earned the same points tally as the Erne County.

The home crowd no doubt helped them secure victories against both Antrim and Westmeath last year when Down were second best and they also overcame Longford to complete a trio of home league victories.

Already this season, the Mourne men emerged triumphed on home soil when they battled back from the brink in the second round of the McKenna Cup to overturn Cavan by three points, although it wasn’t enough to see them qualify for the final four.

Still, the league is where it matters most and a winning start will offer huge encouragement to the Down players, who are no doubt eyeing up a big promotion push. Eight players got on the scoresheet last week as they defeated Oisin McConville’s Wicklow 0-18 to 0-13.

Pat Havern remains the scoring chief up top and he contributed 0-5 of their final tally while half-back Daniel Guinness (0-4) and centre half-forward Liam Kerr (0-3) also had their say on the scoreboard.

Guinness was one of three Down defenders to get on the scoresheet as captain Pierce Laverty along with Finn McElory also raised white flags, as did Odhrán Murdock, Oisin Savage and substitute Rory Mason.

Logic would suggest that Limerick, who plied their trade in Division Two last season, will offer a much sterner examination of Down’s promotion chances than Wicklow did, as they’ve just arrived in Division Three.

But Limerick have their own cause for concern. There are a total of 17 players that were members of the 2023 squad that are currently unavailable to new manager Jimmy Lee for one reason or another.

Donal O’Sullivan has retired while Brian Fanning and Cian Sheehan have both gone travelling, although they still have star man Iain Corbett to call upon and he really led the line as usual against Antrim last week.

It wasn’t enough for them to get something out of the game however, as the Saffrons sauntered to a seven-point win, despite Corbett and Tommie Childs raising green flags for the hosts.

Saturday is the first of four home games that Down will have throughout the Division Three league campaign and as Laverty tries to rebuild the Mourne men to their former glories, wins and good performances at Páirc Esler are key. Both should be expected this weekend.

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