Down strong favourites to advance

By Niall Gartland

DOWN have been rampant in the Tailteann Cup to date and it could be a considerable surprise if their momentum doesn’t carry them through Saturday’s quarter-final clash against outsiders Wicklow at Páirc Esler.

Conor Laverty’s side have been scoring for fun from the outset of their campaign, racking up 1-20 against Limerick, 1-24 against London and 2-22 in a dead rubber tie against Offaly.

They’ve been nothing if not consistent in that front and it spells danger for a Wicklow side that have done very well just to get to this point, finishing third in their group stage table below Fermanagh and Laois before coming out on top of a preliminary quarter-final clash last weekend against Leitrim.

With Oisín McConville overseeing matters on the line, Wicklow qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Tailteann Cup with victory over Carlow in their third and final group stage game.

Then they produced an outstanding second-half performance against Leitrim to book their spot in the last eight on a scoreline of 2-15 to 0-11, led by the hugely influential Dean Healy in the middle of the park.

Earlier in the season Wicklow found themselves relegated out of Division Four, but they didn’t drop their heads and dug deep to claim victory over Dessie Dolan’s Westmeath in the first round of Leinster, before coming agonisingly close to upsetting the odds against Kildare in the last eight, losing by a single point.

The bookies aren’t giving them much of a hope against Down who have been earmarked as 1/8 favourites to progress to the last four, but it’s unlikely that McConville will see their chances as being so slim and their first task will be to curtail a free-scoring Down forward line.

Laverty’s side seem to be on a mission to avenge last year’s Tailteann Cup final defeat to Meath and they’ve gone about their business extremely well.

The likes of Daniel Guinness, Ryan McEvoy, Pierce Laverty and Odhrán Murdock are all in excellent form at present, and they carry a wide range of scoring threats with defenders like McEvoy, Peter Fegan and Sigerson Cup winning captain Ryan Magill getting forward when the moment presents itself to take a score.

Different men have stepped up at different stages – Micéal Rooney for instance excelled with five points from play against London – while Laverty gave some of the mainstays a rest in their dead-rubber tie against Offaly with top spot already scored with a game to spare.

Down will be well-rested as they get ready for their tilt at the knock-out rounds, and even though Wicklow could prove themselves stickier opposition than their previous opponents, the Mourne men should have enough in their armoury to book a spot in the last four.

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