Down in fine fettle heading into All-Ireland campaign – Sloan

By Niall Gartland

CAOIBHE Sloan and Peter Lynch stepped aside as managers of the Down ladies team at the end of 2021, and with things not going to plan for the side in 2022, they decided to come back for another stint.

So far their decision has been vindicated with triumph in the Ulster Junior Championship final a major boost ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland Championship opener against Sligo.

But the fact remains that Down don’t want to be playing junior football in the first place – they were relegated last season, something Sloan attributes to a whole range of factors, rather than a managerial issue.

“It was hard watching on last year. We said to the girls when we stepped down we’d be their number one fan and we definitely were.

“When relegation happens there isn’t just one factor. People go travelling and things like that. Maybe this is the English teacher in me, but it was a series of unfortunate events,” she said. “It was hard to see and Peter and I thought we could still have something to give. We were able to go back in and thankfully we did.

“We’ve brought in a few new coaches and really keep the thing fresh. The girls have also bought in massively and that’s all we can ask of them. They’re role models in the way they have conducted themselves and the commitment we’re getting from them is second-to-none.”

Sloan and Lynch had been in charge for a three-year period in their first stint during which Down were a solid intermediate side. Getting back to that level is the target but Sloan knows it won’t happen with the flick of a switch.

“It’s important for us to get back up to intermediate level but the big priority is getting the girls playing the style of football we want, that has to be the primary objective because only then will other things fall into place.

“We’ve definitely had a bit of momentum springing from our Ulster final win. We’ve had a few weeks to regroup heading into the championship and we’re looking forward to this weekend. To be honest, and I’m not just saying this, Sligo are a bit of an unknown quantity as they have a new management team that came on board at the end of the league so it’s hard for us to know what to expect. A few years ago when we were in charge Sligo beat us in the league, so they have some fine players and it’s not an easy opener for us by any means.”

Reflecting on their hard-fought win over Fermanagh in the Ulster Junior final, Sloan says she expects the Erne County to be in the chase for the All-Ireland title.

“It was nip and tuck, not a pile between the teams and at half time we were 5-3 down.

“They’d taken their chances and we didn’t but we stepped up in the second half and they did likewise and it was a good battle.

“We got the rub of the green but I have no doubt Fermanagh will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the championship.”

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