By Niall McCoy
WHEN new Down captain Laoise Duffy says that she can’t wait to get back to football we can definitely take her word for it.
A combination of a study placement in America and injury has meant that you have to go all the way back to the 2019 season for the last time she lined out for the Mourne county. That was a league meeting against Meath in Saval, and she has been sorely missed.
That will change in a few weeks’ time though as Caoibhe Sloan and Peter Lynch’s side open their league season on May 23 at home to Sligo.
Even though she has been absent, the Bredagh player’s influence on the panel is evident by the fact that she will lead the side out for the first National League game against the Yeats county.
“Everyone was pretty delighted for me,” Duffy said of earning the captaincy. “I’m over the moon. Shocked, but it’s a big honour for me.”
Duffy came into the Down panel in 2015, months after the county had claimed All-Ireland Intermediate honours with a comprehensive final victory over Fermanagh.
That success ensured a real baptism of fire for the player as the side entered the senior grade in her first year despite being massively out of their depth.
Duffy’s showings were one of the few bright spots and she got her first All-Ireland Championship point against Donegal in Ulster, but their combined losing margin against the Tir Chonaill county and Cavan, who they met in the Qualifiers, was an astounding 113 points.
Since then it has been a ‘walk, don’t run’ policy for the Mourne side with Lynch and Sloan now in a third year of a transition period that has brought higher standards and, crucially, fresh, young blood into the panel.
Duffy believes that the side are putting in strong foundations, the bedrock that should allow them to ascend the ranks over the coming years.
“We’re really on the right path,” said Duffy, who represented Ulster in the 2018 interprovincial series.
“We have been building and we can’t wait until we are back up at that top level and competing with those teams, the likes of Armagh and Donegal.
“I don’t think we are far off. We have the talent in the team and we have the ambition too.
“The determination is there so I don’t think it will be too long until we are giving those teams a run for their money.”
Much of Duffy’s confidence comes from the current management team of Sloan and Lynch. They came to prominence after guiding Armagh club Shane O’Neill’s to the 2016 All-Ireland Intermediate Club final before taking on the Mourne county gig ahead of the 2019 season.
“They’re amazing, and there is such a good dynamic between them,” Duffy said. “They work so well together.
“They’ve really brought everyone up to a new level. It’s a very professional set-up. No stone is left unturned with them.
“They have brought forward every single aspect, both on the pitch and off it, and they have raised the levels of everything.”
Duffy will be hoping to repay the pair with leading performances when the action does resume in the National League next month – and the attacker cannot wait to get out on the pitch.
“It has actually been a while since I’ve played for Down,” Duffy continued.
“I was out in 2019 because I was in America doing my placement year. I study computer science so I was out in Boston working with an insurance company doing software engineering.
“We ended up coming home last March because of Covid. We didn’t want to get stuck out there. Even though we had to end it early it was a great experience.
“I went over with my sister (Orla) and although we lived a bit outside Boston, we loved getting into the city. She was doing her placement over there too and I was lucky to have her with me.
“We had intended to get involved with the football in the summer over there but it never happened because we had to come home early.
“Last year with the championship I was out because I broke my collarbone. It happened in a friendly before our championship final (for Bredagh) so I was out for all the big games last year.
“To be honest it hasn’t felt that long since I’ve played because I’ve been involved the whole time.
“When I broke my collarbone I still really felt part of team because Peter and Caoibhe had me helping out with things behind the scenes and in the background.”
After their opener against Sligo, Down will be on the road for Division 3A fixtures against Roscommon (May 30) and Fermanagh (June 6). If they do well a semi-final spot awaits them the week after.
Down will be able to meet up again as a group from this Monday and given the wait that the players have endured – and the extra delay for Duffy due to injuries and travel – that day cannot come soon enough.
“I can’t wait,” she added. “It’s been so long, so to finally get a chance to get back training and playing is all you want.”