Ladies NFL Division 3A
SLIGO V Down
Sunday, IT Sligo, 2pm
By Michael McMullan
NEW Down manager Ronan McCartan stresses his side’s sole focus is on league survival ahead of this weekend’s refixed clash with Sligo.
The Mourne girls were 4-10 to 4-9 winners over Roscommon in their opening game in a group that has very little separating the teams.
Sligo and Louth drew in the first game, with Louth edging Roscommon by a point.
“We’d be delighted to get another win to keep us from relegation and then build for the championship,” said McCartan, who was part of Ryan McShane’s management team in 2017.
He heads up a management team that has Jim Magorrian, Cormac Venney, Chris Rooney and Ryan O’Gorman all on board.
Kilcoo’s Stevie Kane joined as goalkeeping coach, with Down hurler Oisin MacManus also on board.
“Our aim isn’t to get promoted this year,” McCartan stresses, choosing to point to a long-term plan.
Down haven’t made an Intermediate All-Ireland final since current Antrim selector Kyla Trainor powered them to the 2014 title.
“We haven’t made a (league) semi-final in eight years, so it’s not as if we are just knocking on the door.
“If we could get safe and get the girls another few weeks of training before the championship, that’s what we’d be looking at.”
McCartan, a native of Ballymartin, has his finger on the coaching pulse in his role as GPO in Antrim, taking him around schools in 10-week blocks and adding in after school sessions.
After conceding two goals against Roscommon, Down stabilised and led by seven points at one stage in the first half.
The Rossies reduced the margin to two by the break, but a goal from Northern Ireland soccer star Jessica Foy and points from Natasha Ferris and debutant Viv McCormack gave them a four-point cushion.
Roscommon beat Down last season and when they hit a fourth goal, the home side were forced to hold on for victory at Páirc Esler.
McCartan also handed debuts to goalkeeper Caroline Kennedy, Maeve Deerey, Alice McAlea and Aimee O’Higgins.
“We were delighted to get a win but unfortunately our game was called off at the weekend, which puts you on the back foot straight away again,” McCartan added.
The new management team identified ‘six or seven’ new girls to come into the squad.
“We are pretty happy, there was a good group there from the work Peter (Lynch) and Caoibhe (Sloan) had done,” stressed the new boss.
“We have a good panel and it is a long-term project with ourselves. We are working with a development squad of girls as well, so there isn’t just the initial panel; there are younger girls and we can see if there is something in that we can develop.”
After using 24 players in their opening games, McCartan is hoping to get more of his players on the pitch, but points to the four-team leagues being vastly more competitive that the original eight-team divisions in place pre-Covid. Add in the fact that it’s a new management team finding their feet.
“We know it is a really tough game,” he sums up ahead of their Sligo game. “Then you have Louth who came up from winning Division Four last year and pushed Roscommon to the pin of their collar.
“Last Sunday (win over Roscommon) was a massive win for us, it gives the girls a bit of confidence, but we are under no illusions it is a really tight group.”