By Shaun Casey
WINNING is a habit, and that may be a cliched statement but for the Down footballers, that sentiment is seemingly ringing true.
Conor Laverty’s side got their league campaign up and running with a win over Tipperary last weekend, although it was closer than it needed to be going down the stretch.
But they’re still a work in progress and the momentum that comes with picking up two points on the road can’t be underestimated.
A long journey to Tipperary was always going to pose a difficult prospect, but leaving with two points, no matter how you might judge the performance, is all that matters.
They have home advantage this Saturday evening as they welcome Andy McEntee’s Antrim to Páirc Esler, in front of a huge Down support no doubt.
Laverty and McEntee’s tenure in charge couldn’t be more different. While Laverty’s side haven’t been beaten inside 70 minutes, former Meath boss McEntee still hasn’t tasted victory while in charge of the Saffrons.
Two McKenna Cup losses to Armagh and Cavan clearly weren’t the best preparation for a tough Division Three campaign and Antrim’s opening day defeat to Offaly immediately applies pressure.
Down will want to add to that Saffron stress this weekend as they are keen to keep their promotion push on track.
The Mourne men were in flying form in the first half against Tipperary, with Pat Havern’s (right) 20th-minute goal helping them into a commanding 1-6 to 0-2 half-time lead.
Conor Francis added to their tally late in the second half with his side’s second goal to put them seven points ahead, but a red card to Niall McParland threw a real spanner into the works.
Down let Tipp back into the game and the home side netted through Teddy Doyle to leave a nervy final couple of minutes.
To their credit, Laverty’s side held on for victory and while there are plenty of learnings to come from the opening day, learning while winning is much more enjoyable.
There will be much bigger tests ahead in the coming weeks, but Down certainly look to be back on track after a horrible 2022.
They’ll go into this one as massive favourites, and rightly so, and should have a couple of points to spare by the time the full-time whistle sounds.
To head into the break with maximum points from two outings would be massive for Down and would set them up brilliantly for a tilt at promotion.