Mourne County hoping to add to Westmeath woes

By Niall McCoy

GIVEN how the fixtures have played out to date, Down can all but guarantee one of their key objectives for the season when Westmeath visit Ballycran on Saturday – safety.

Of course Ronan Sheehan’s side have ambitions higher than that, but it would be nice to go into the last few games of the championship without having to look over their shoulder.

A win wouldn’t leave them 100 per cent safe, but considering the Leinster side have endured a difficult start to proceedings, losing both games, it would take something special for Down to finish bottom.

Westmeath spent the early spring playing the likes of Limerick, Galway and Tipperary in the league, so their opening Joe McDonagh Cup loss to Kerry raised eyebrows. The Kingdom have struggled in Division 2A, but they went to Mullingar and won, and won with a comfortable six-point margin too.

When Offaly were reduced to 14 men after an incredible seven seconds last weekend, captain Jason Sampson dismissed for an off the ball incident, the door seemed ajar for Westmeath to get back on track, but the Faithful County also had six points to spare.

Westmeath lost Darragh Egerton to a first-half red card but as it was for a black and a yellow, he will be available here while Killian Doyle hit 0-15 in a losing effort, and any Down infringements will be punished.

Like Westmeath, Down have also felt the force of Kerry having lost 0-26 to 2-12 in round two in Tralee.

That eight-point margin is pretty misleading though because the sides were level heading towards the final stretch.

Disaster struck for the Ulster side as Daithi Sands picked up a second yellow card and Kerry out-scored them 0-9 to 0-1 from there on in.

Having played against a strong wind, Down were level at the break with Sands and Caolan Taggart grabbing goals, but they let a fine position slip after the break.

Still though, this is Ballycran and no team gets it easy up there.

There is also the undeniable fact that the Mourne panel is really starting to add depth. Just look at the five players they brought in against Kerry – Tom McGrattan, Finn Turpin, Marc Fisher, Oisin McManus and Barry Trainor.

Even with Westmeath’s struggles, they’ll need them all to earn a second win, but home comforts are within touch.

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