By Kieran Lynch
DOWN ladies are preparing for the new National League season, with Peter Lynch back at the helm after a one-year absence.
The Shane O’Neill’s man co-managed the side with Caoibhe Sloan between 2019 and 2021, winning the Ulster Intermediate Championship in their final campaign, and Lynch says that it’s good to be back.
“We’re back training now, and back enjoying it, same as before,” he said.
“It’s good to have an already established relationship with players and with the executive board, so there is that familiarity there, which you would have to spend a lot of time building up. There are some new faces, but we’re all getting to know each other and we’re happy with how things are building.”
Reflecting on his first spell as manager, Lynch believes that there are lessons to learn, but he feels as though the team were on the right track, but struggled to manage the Covid-induced break in 2020.
“It was a learning curve alright, to step up to inter-county from club level,” he said of his first spell.
“There are many strands that you have to deal with – players, the board, a much bigger coaching staff, and club managers. There are also different expectations at county level.
“In our first spell we were going well before Covid hit, and that derailed us a bit. We were unbeaten in the league and going really well before lockdown came in 2020. It was the same situation for every county team, but we lost that bit of momentum we had, because we were on a run of winning games, then it was six months before we played another game.”
In the 2020 Intermediate Championship, Down faced Meath at the quarter-final stage, losing out by two points. Since then, Meath went on to claim the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship, and back-to-back All-Ireland Senior Championships, whilst Down were relegated to the Junior Championship last season.
“We played Meath close in what was a more compressed All-Ireland series,” said Lynch.
“They beat us by two points, and we have seen where Meath have gone since that day.
“The following year we tried to expand a bit on the attacking side of our game, which had a few teething problems at first, but we concentrated on the things that were working for us, and we went on an unbeaten run until Wexford beat us in the championship.”
Lynch has had a year out to reflect on his first tenure, but instead he’s looking to the future, as the National League looms.
“You always reflect on the good and the bad, but we’re looking forward now,” he said.
“And the first competition is the National League, which Down made the semi-final of last year, and we would like to think that we can be competing towards the top end of that.
“There are a lot of good teams in there – six of the eight teams in Division Three are Intermediate Championship teams – so there isn’t even one game that you would look at as an easy one. But we think that we will be able to mix it with any of them.
“We have always said that the players in Down are as good as the players anywhere else, and we always look to add more detail, more coaching, and more tactical awareness. Plus, the players grow as well; over a three or four-year period, players will develop individually as well as part of a team, in terms of their game intellect and game management.
“There are a lot of girls who weren’t long out of minors when me and Caoibhe first came in, who are in their early twenties and they’re more well-rounded and accomplished players.
“So, we think that we have a good enough squad to compete on all fronts.”
Whilst the familiarity remains from Lynch’s first spell in charge, there are a few new players on the scene who will be competing for their spot in the squad.
“Some players came into the squad last year when I wasn’t there like Viv McCormack, Alice McAlee, and Orla Boyle,” said Lynch.
“They all played really well last year, and they have been going well for us in training. They are all very good footballers, and they’ll make their mark this year.
“We will need competition for places; if we have 30 players, every single one of them must be capable of stepping in and playing at any given moment. Nobody in the team is just making up the numbers.
“Healthy competition is there, and anyone who is not on the pitch is supporting those who are, and that’s important too. There is a good tight group, a great bond between the players, and I think that they’re on track to get back to the level which they should be at.”