Morgan: Meenagh a welcome addition to the Mourne brain trust

By Shaun Casey

WHEN Down and Derry clashed in last year’s McKenna Cup semi-final at Páirc Esler, Ciarán Meenagh was in the red and white corner, helping the Oakleaf County secure a penalty shootout win on their way to winning the competition for the first time since 2011.

This time around however, the Tyrone native will be part of Conor Laverty’s Down side as they travel to Celtic Park on Saturday evening to open up the 2024 season.

Meenagh was welcomed into the Mourne County’s management team after stepping down as Derry interim manager last summer and has been a valuable addition to the set up, said Down coach Declan Morgan.

“Ciarán’s a great fella. Obviously from a coaching point of view, he’s an absolutely top-class coach,” said Morgan, who was part of Laverty’s backroom ticket last season.

“His record with Derry over this last five or six years, where he’s taken them from to where they are now is second to none.

“They were a kick of a ball really away from getting to an All-Ireland final and beating Kerry and Ciarán did a fantastic job with them last year, there’s no doubt about that.

“He’s come into our setup, Conor knows him really well, Mickey Donnelly would know him really well and I’ve got to know Ciarán well through other things over the last couple of years.

“So, he’s coming into the setup where everybody knows each other anyway so it’s been pretty seamless to be honest because we all know each other and we’re all singing off the same hymn sheet.

“The players have really responded well to him. He’s just a great coach, he’s a great football man, he’s a good person and he’s a great man to have around the setup.”

It’s Derry up first for Down before they take on Cavan in the final round of the group stage. Morgan is expecting two difficult fixtures against two teams operating above Down in the league.

Derry, the reigning Ulster champions, earned promotion to the top tier in 2023 while Cavan claimed the Division Three league title.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” added Morgan. “We got a good draw there with Mickey Harte’s Derry up first, there’s going to be a massive interest in that, and nothing gets the juices flowing like a bit game like that.

“We had a good game against them last year. They came down to Newry and they came down with a team loaded with a lot of their front-line men and it was a ding-dong game. It went down to penalties, and they won it on penalties.

“They took a lot out of it, we took a lot out of it, hopefully if we get a game of a similar standard and a similar intensity then we’ll be delighted.

“We have Cavan in there as well. We played them twice last year; they beat us in the league, and we were lucky enough to get past them in the Tailteann Cup quarter-final but that was a game that went right to the wire as well.

“We nicked it late; we got a few points to pull away and a goal near the end, but we know what we’re getting with Cavan. They’ve obviously got a new manager in with Raymond (Galligan) and there’ll be a lot of interest in how he’s going to make the transition.”

Once the McKenna Cup is finished, attention will soon turn towards their Division Three league campaign, with the target of climbing up the divisions high on Down’s agenda after missing out last season.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Division Four, Three or Two, you want to get promoted.

“It’s as simple as that. We’re under no illusions, Division Three is going to be tough with Westmeath there, we had an absolute ding-dong game with them in Newry last year.

“We nicked it with a couple of late scores, we have to go down there this year and that’s not going to be easy. We have Antrim too and we have them in the championship as well and we have to go to Corrigan Park.

“Last year again in the league, it wasn’t a great performance by us, but it was a brilliant performance by Antrim, and we were so lucky to get over the line that night.

“Then you have other teams in the mix there like Clare, Sligo, Limerick, Wicklow and Offaly, it’s going to be a tough league.

“We have four home games and the boys enjoy playing in Newry and hopefully we can take advantage of that but it’s no gimme,” Morgan added.

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