Pierce Laverty: The pressure is off Down as they eye up Croke Park title

By Shaun Casey

DOWN’S target at the start of the season was to confirm their spot in Division Two for next year, and ahead of Saturday’s Croke Park showdown with Westmeath, they’ve achieved their goal.

Six wins from seven outings and a convincing final day victory over Clare in what was more or less a promotion decider highlights the positive mood in the camp currently as the Mourne men eye up some silverware.

It’s back to headquarters for Conor Laverty’s troops and they’ll hope their experience is a brighter one this time around. Down faced Meath in the Tailteann Cup final last season and travelled back home empty-handed.

Promotion proved the perfect tonic.

“It went brilliantly from our perspective,” said Down skipper Pierce Laverty. “Our main focus this year was to get promotion and get up through the divisions so it’s great to get there and we look forward to a league final now.

“You definitely feel (pressure) especially losing out last year by a point, so the pressure was definitely building but the message was to go and enjoy it and I think boys really did that.

“We’re satisfied, though we’d like maybe to be playing a wee bit more consistently and not conceding so much in those couple of games. We have to learn from them, and I think we have learned from them and we’re pushing on.”

The only blot on Down’s otherwise perfect record in the league was a round six draw with this weekend’s opponents Westmeath when a fabulous last-minute strike from Ryan McEvoy kept their unbeaten run intact.

Westmeath, the 2022 Tailteann Cup winners, likewise have yet to taste defeat this year so something has to give on Saturday evening. Looking back at the first meeting just two weeks ago, Laverty insists his side know they can improve.

“Some aspects of our forward play weren’t up to scratch,” added the Down defender. “We had a lot of handling errors and things like that.

“But if you told us at the start of the year we were going to get out of Mullingar with a draw and go into the last game with everything still in your own hands, we’d have taken that.

“Building from last year, the support has been brilliant, and I would encourage as many people as possible to get out to games.

“You could see at half time of the Clare game; the pitch was covered in young ones kicking ball and that’s great to see.”

Having achieved their first ambition of 2024, Laverty says his side are now looking forward to a big season with the pressure off their shoulders.

“There’s a mix of emotions, the pressure maybe was building throughout the year without anybody mentioning it, we all felt it ourselves. You can relax a wee bit now that we’ve got our main goal.

“We’ve done that, and you can just look forward to a long summer of football.”

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