Review of the season: Down

1 Mourne men on the march

AFTER a disastrous 2022 season where Down didn’t win a single game, things could only get better in 2023, and they certainly did. Conor Laverty brought an energy and a passion to the Down cause that has possibly been missing over the past number of years and this year turned out to be pretty successful. Okay, there’s no silverware on the table just yet, but Down competed in each competition they were in and had some bright moments throughout the year. They reached the McKenna Cup semi-finals, losing to Derry after a penalty shootout, finished third in Division Three behind Ulster rivals Cavan and Fermanagh, qualified for the last four of the Ulster Championship with a home win over Donegal and made it to the Tailteann Cup final. Two run outs in Croke Park weren’t to be sniffed at either and Laverty will be hoping to push his side on once again.

2 Lynch and Sloan’s ladies land All-Ireland crown

2023 proved to be a dream year for the Down ladies as they were one of the few teams throughout the nation that finished their season on the steps of the Hogan Stand. Peter Lynch and Caoibhe Sloan’s team were one of the stories of the season and they deserved their All-Ireland crown, beating Limerick in the decider at Croke Park with two points to spare. Orla Swail was the hero for the Mourne ladies, and she fulfilled the duty of the ‘super sub’ with brilliant aplomb, rattling the back of the net once introduced to the game, while Natasha Ferris top scored with 0-5 in their 1-7 to 0-8 win. It’s back up to Intermediate level now for the Mourne side following their relegation to the Junior division last year.

3 Portaferry’s provincial pain

PORTAFERRY retained their Down title this season for the first time since 2002 when they completed the three-in-a-row, but Ulster was a big motivating factor for Gerard McGrattan’s side. They were humiliated by Sleacht Néill in the Ulster semi-final last year, losing to Michael McShane’s men by an astonishing 19 points, so getting back to the provincial stage and doing themselves justice was at the top of their to-do list for 2023.

They certainly achieved that goal when they battled with Antrim champions (and eventual Ulster champions) Cushendall for a place in the decider and were inches away from reaching their first final since 2014. But Antrim legend Neil McManus smashed a late free into the bottom corner to force extra-time and Cushendall proved too strong from there, but Portaferry can be proud of their battling spirit.

4 Kilcoo remain the dominant force

WHEN will Kilcoo’s stranglehold on the Frank O’Hare Cup finally come to an end? Not any time soon based on this season’s results. Usually, the Magpies have a tough time defending their crown but this year they showed the dominance that the roll of honour suggests. League champions Carryduff lived with them for periods in their two championship encounters against Lacey’s men, but in the end, Kilcoo came out on top on both occasions. Clonduff took them to extra-time last year, but this time around Kilcoo had everything wrapped up inside 60 minutes, even if things did get out of hand towards the end. Kilcoo then brushed aside Burren, who promised to be their toughest test of the lot, but the St Mary’s men failed to live up to the billing in the county final.

5 Down’s Hurling All-Star

IT was far from a stellar year for Down hurling as they struggled to compete in Division 2A of the National Hurling League and the Joe McDonagh Cup, but it did end on a high with Pearse Óg McCrickard picking up a well-deserved place on the Joe McDonagh Cup Team of the Year. Down just about avoided relegation from the league, with a draw against Derry enough to save them and send the Oakleaf County packing, while a round five victory over Kildare was their only win of the Joe McDonagh Cup. The Mourne men will hope to push on next year, and they’ll need McCrickard to be at the top of his game once again.

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