Down camogie boss optimistic ahead of provincial campaign

By Niall Gartland

REIGNING Ulster champions Down have managed to keep the show on the road this season in spite of the loss of key personnel, so their manager Paul Donnelly is pleased with their progress heading into Sunday’s provincial semi-final clash against Derry.

The Mourne County secured their top flight status on the final day of the league in commendable fashion as they clinched a precious point against Kerry away from home.

Belfast man Donnelly is in his second season in charge of the team, but there’s been a very different feel to things with a few mainstays opting out for various reasons, most prominently star forward Niamh Mallon who has transferred to Galway, where she lives and works, and is already showing what she can do in last week’s narrow Division One final defeat to Tipperary.

But the shift in personnel has given the opportunity for less experienced players to shine and staying up in Division One was a big achievement in the circumstances.

Donnelly said: “A number of girls for many different reasons decided not to stay involved this season, so we’ve had to work on the development of a new crop of players, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

“We’ve got the best coaches about in Arron Graffin, Catherine McGourty and Seamus McKenna to develop them on the field and while it mightn’t look this way from the results over the course of the league, we put in some really good performances.

“That led to a de facto league decider against Kerry at the end of March, we drew the game and that was enough to secure our Division One status.

“Our aim for the year was to retain our league status and we’ve met that objective and I’m very happy.”

Cited by Donnelly as among those making a name for themselves are Sophie McGrath and Emily Fitzpatrick, both of whom have brought real “energy” and “application” to proceedings.

The transition process was always going to happen at some stage and Donnelly says the most important thing is ensuring that there isn’t a gung-ho approach to doing so.

“That’s the way you have to look at things, sport is all about forward planning. It’s about transitioning players into a set-up which is going to progress them as players and that’s what we’ve doing. There’s a lot of good people around the county board and I’ve also worked closely with the manager of the Down junior team, David Caulfield. We’re constantly in communication about the development of players.”

Down must battle past Derry for a place in the Ulster Senior final and it won’t be easy given the Oak Leafers progress of late. They won last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate title and recently fell narrowly short in their late comeback against Westmeath in the Division 2A league final.

“There’s never too much between Down, Antrim and Derry no matter who is managing them or what players they have. So the Derry game is our full focus this week, we’re training hard and have a bit of a game-plan and we’ll see what happens.”

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW