By Michael McMullan
DOWN ladies have parked their Ulster title with the focus now firmly on the All-Ireland series that continues with the visit of Kilkenny on Sunday (Páirc Esler 2pm).
Like all camogie and ladies football teams, Down will be fulfilling the rest of the season ‘under protest’ as they urge all three associations to come together to agree a charter for the 2024 season.
Saval’s Ciara Byrne, a recent graduate in DCU, is happy with the team’s progress and is excited by the recent All-Ireland u-14 win.
“One of the things our team wants to do is take Down football out of where everyone sees it at the moment,” Byrne told Gaelic Life.
“When you hear there are u-14 girls achieving and playing really well, it is such a boost for us.
“We are delighted other kids will be inspired by those girls to take part and play Gaelic so hopefully Down ladies will be on the rise in the next while.”
After a heavy defeat in their opening league game against Kildare, Down quickly stabilised and going under narrowly to Clare was their only other blip on a campaign that saw them miss out on the semi-finals by virtue of score difference.
“This year we really set ourselves to take a step up from last year. We didn’t realise how much of a step Kildare were,” Byrne said of their chastening opening game.
“It was our first game and they definitely took us by surprise and a little bit of panic set in after (conceding) a few goals.”
It was a matter of regrouping for the next outing against Sligo to ensure their season didn’t “crumble” and the following week was a tough battle in a 0-8 to 1-4 win over Wexford.
“That’s the one that sticks out,” Byrne said of their league campaign. “It was one of those games when you literally don’t know who is going to win it.
“It was hard-fought and everyone knows it is a better feeling when the game is tight and there is a real urgency to get scores on the board.”
Since the league, Down beat Fermanagh to land the Ulster Junior title. It was won, enjoyed and then parked as the focus turns to the All-Ireland series and a chance to get back to Croke Park.
Byrne hails the return of Peter Lynch and Caoibhe Sloan as a management duo, who brought former county footballers Kevin McKernan and Mark Poland into the management team. The combination has helped achieve even more buy-in from the squad.
“When everyone heard they were coming back, there was such a lift in the team,” she said. “We knew Peter and Caoibhe were buying into this and we knew what we were getting from them.
“It encouraged us all to come back and know what we are working for and that we want to achieve what they do.”
The Down group have been together for the last “four of five” years. Even on the days they are not training, many meet up and the togetherness continues to grow.
“The relationship off the field is really strong and that’s very important for on the field,” Byrne added.
“We had our celebrations after winning Ulster and were back to the clubs and schools with the trophy to show the children what they could win.
“We were delighted to win it, but the focus is now on the (All-Ireland) championship.
“That’s where we want to go. If we get too caught up in what we have already done, we will lose focus on where we want to go.
“That’s the mentality of the whole group at this moment in time,” she added.