By Michael McMullan
IT wasn’t always like this for Downings. On Sunday, they make the journey to Cavan (2.15pm) to take on the Breffni champions Ballyhaise, but their origin tells more of the story.
They were Donegal Junior champions in 2016. Two years later they were still in the junior ranks and playing their football in Division Four.
Now, they’re mixing in the top division and have added another junior title on their run to the 2021 Ulster final defeat at the hands of Denn. “We have been on the up since,” said current captain Ben McNutt who has been through thick and thin of the Downings’ story across the last decade. It has been quite the journey in the space of four or five years with our progress.”
Hard work and persistence have been the cornerstones. Their footing has been helped with a growing attacking unit.
“We were starved of players for a long time,” McNutt said, explaining how new ace Paddy McElwee has added to the talents of Johnny McGroddy and Lorcan Connor, who shot them on their way to the 2021 Ulster decider.
“Paddy has come along and improved our forward line a lot,” McNutt said. “Between him, Lorcan and Johnny up front, it is a unit that is hard to stop.
“We have been progressing, ‘Cookie’ (Kevin Gallagher) and the boys have brought a lot of boys on and it has been a great journey for the club.”
McElwee, McGroddy and Connor hit all but one point in their 0-11 to 0-9 win over Malin in the Donegal final.
Downings will be hoping for a similar return on Sunday against Ballyhaise with either Glenullin or Glenravel awaiting the winners in the semi-final.
The provincial series is the forever “bonus territory” of newcomers on the scene. A club like Downings, knowing where they want to go and armed with the memories of where they came from, are full of excitement once again.
“We took a turn and decided we wanted to get out of where we were,” McNutt said of a change in attitude across the squad. And then the newcomers came into the squad, there was a mind-set. We put a lot of work in, between the gym and extra sessions, and it paid off,” he said.
Then, there was the rise in standards coming down the tracks. Playing their league football in Division One sharpened their approach. It was sink or swim.
“It has been class,” McNutt said of their progress. “It has helped with the Intermediate Championship in that you were playing better teams.
“We were playing St Eunan’s and Glenties…yes, they didn’t always have their full team out but they had serious players all the time. I think that stood to us when it came to championship time.” When it came to the Intermediate final, they stood toe to toe with Malin, the other Division One team, and didn’t blink. Now, it’s all about baking the memories of their Ulster Junior run and trying to conjure something similar. “Hopefully that will stand to us,” McNutt concluded. “It was unreal the last time and it kept the community going all winter.
“It gives them something to come out to. We had a good run the last time and hopefully we can do it again.”