PREVIEW: Down can end wait for silverware

By Niall Gartland

IT was quite a line – last weekend Leitrim boss Andy Moran issued a defiant rebuttal to those who call for the league finals to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Moran, whose team play in the Division Four showdown this Saturday, said “I heard a lot of noise during the week about killing league finals – they can kill them all they want for Divisions One and Two but they won’t be killing them for Divisions Three and Four.”

Presumably it’s a sentiment echoed by Down manager Conor Laverty as his team gear up for their tier-three showdown against Westmeath at GAA Headquarters in the main course this Saturday evening.

The Down senior footballers have endured a barren spell without winning silverware of any description since getting their hands on the McKenna Cup back in 2008.

They’ve reached a few finals in the interim but it hasn’t gone their way: they were pummelled by All-Ireland champions in-waiting Donegal in the 2012 Ulster final and by Tyrone five years later and they lost out to Meath in last year’s Tailteann Cup showdown at Croke Park, a salutary learning experience if nothing else. There was, of course, the one-point 2010 All-Ireland final loss to Cork.

Down return to Croker this Saturday buoyed by what has been a hugely productive league campaign to date. They clinched promotion back to Division Two last weekend with victory over Clare. They didn’t lose a single match (the only ‘blip’ being a draw against Westmeath) and they were second only to Dublin in the scoring stakes having racked up a whopping 145 points across their seven matches.

It wasn’t a total walk in the park, however – they made particularly hard work of their victory over Offaly and they didn’t ignite in their prior encounter against Westmeath, scoring only four point in the first shalf with the wind at their backs.

Individually their players have been in fine fettle. Ryan McEvoy, Ceilum Doherty and Danny Magill and others have kept the door shut at the back and you could go through the rest of the team and there are few obvious areas of concern. The team’s fluidity has also been highly noteworthy with McEvoy, for example, scoring the late equaliser against Westmeath while Doherty was in blistering form last weekend against Clare, scoring 1-2 from defence.

It isn’t quite the same line-up as last year with Caolan Mooney returning to the fold and making a positive impression, albeit he’s ruled out of this weekend’s game with a hamstring injury, while goalkeeper John O’Hare has looked secure between the sticks, effectively replacing Niall Kane who has dropped off the panel.

Up front Pat Havern, Liam Kerr, James Guinness and Ryan Johnston have all done well while the recent addition of John McGovern is an exciting one so there’s a real sense of expectation ahead of Saturday’s showdown against Westmeath.

In theory this is a team that should excel at Croke Park, but it didn’t really work out for them in last year’s Tailteann Cup showdown against Meath. In the second half they were overpowered and outgunned by Colm O’Rourke’s side but arguably they were the architects of their own downfall as they were fairly wasteful across the 70-plus minutes.

That said, it was the first year of Laverty’s tenure in charge and the addition of Ciarán Meenagh was a big coup for the Mourne men.

Already they seem to be a diffierent animal than 2023, but the hunch is that they’ll have enough in the locker to swat aside a reasonably strong Westmeath team that captured the inaugural Tailteann Cup two years back.

The Leinster side, managed again by Dessie Dolan, have had a decent league campaign even though they’ve been hampered on the injury front, with their defence hit particularly hard.

Their manager has cited their busy schedule as the root cause of their injury woes but youngsters like Robbie Forde and Danny Scahill have done well while the thirty-somethings (Jack Smith, Kevin Maguire, James Dolan, Kieran Martin, Jamie Gonoud and talisman John Heslin) have resisted any temptation to hang up the boots.

They’ve been nowhere near as potent as Down in front of the posts, averaging a fairly unremarkable 13.5 points a game, and they stuttered to a surprise six-point defeat to Sligo last weekend in their final group stage match.

They can’t be discounted and haven’t become a bad team overnight, finishing second in the table, but Down have been particularly sharp in the early stages of the season and can get their hands on some long-awaited silverware this Saturday.



Offaly 0-10 Westmeath 1-11

Westmeath 1-11 Clare 0-13

Wicklow 0-10 Westmeath 1-13

Westmeath 0-14 Limerick 1-8

Antrim 0-9 Westmeath 0-13

Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10

Sligo 1-14 Westmeath 0-11


Wicklow 0-13 Down 0-18

Down 3-16 Limerick 0-9

Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15

Down 4-12 Offaly 2-14

Down 2-17 Sligo 1-8

Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10

Down 3-15 Clare 1-10


(All competitions)


Luke Loughlin 0-17 (7f)

Senan Baker 1-12 (11f)

Ronan O’Toole 0-14


Pat Havern 0-46 (28f, 1m)

Odhrán Murdock 5-9 (3-0 pens)

Liam Kerr 2-14 (3f, 1m)



Ronan O’Toole

All-Star nominee Ronan O’Toole has been Westmeath’s top-scorer from play since the start of the season and played a particularly crucial role in their recent win over Clare, scoring a late winning point.


Ceilum Doherty

It’s been a real team effort from Down thus far this season but Ceilum Doherty has stood out as arguably their most in-form player. The hugely versatile Kilcoo clubman lines out in defence but is blessed with attacking talent and scored 1-2 against both Sligo and Clare.

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