Strong defence and super subs can help Down claim title

By Kieran Lynch

WITH the All-Ireland Junior Championship final just days away, Down co-manager Peter Lynch says that his team are in good shape before the biggest game of the year.

The Mourne Ladies take on Limerick, with the hope of making a speedy return to Intermediate grade, having been relegated last season.

Lynch and his co-manager Caoibhe Sloan came back in for their second term at the beginning of the year, this time bringing Down football legends Kevin McKernan and Mark Poland with them as coaches, and he believes that most of their preparation is already done, as they count down the days to the big one.

“Everything is very good and very positive. At this stage, we figure that the hard work is probably done,” he said.

“The hardest training sessions are probably over, we’ll now try to focus on the player’s sharpness and in general, we feel as though we’re in good shape. We were a few players light for the semi-final, but we’re expecting to have those players back and ready to play.”

Down and Limerick are already acquainted with one another, having met in the group stages five weeks ago.

Lynch’s side came out with the right result that day – winning 1-13 to 1-8 – but he feels that Sunday will present a different challenge.

“I don’t think that it has much bearing really,” he said, of their first meeting.

“We have both played a semi-final since then, and I think we had a bit of a rub of the green against Carlow. Limerick also came through a tough game against Fermanagh, but were deserving winners.

“They’re formidable opponents and we know that from playing them down there.”

As Lynch mentioned, Down didn’t have it all their own way against Carlow, as the Leinster champions put them under considerable pressure in the second half.

However, Down were able to stave off three goal chances, and then netted the killer goal themselves at the death – despite being down to 14 players after Meghan Doherty was sin binned – to win 1-9 to 0-8.

“The immediate feeling after the game was that we under-performed,” said Lynch.

“But when we looked back at the video, we were actually better than we thought we were. We looked after the ball well in the closing stages, especially when we went down a player.

“Defensively we were very sound I thought. Their forward Rachel Sawyer proved to be a real handful for us, and she caused us a lot of trouble. But towards the end of the game, we managed to get a tighter grip on her, and took her influence out of the game a little bit.

“Defensively we have been sound all year, and we’re conceding an average of 10 or 11 points per game. That always gives you a platform to win games.

“It has been a bedrock for us all year, and it was in those dying minutes against Carlow.”

Down’s strength in depth has helped them get to this point, as substitutes have provided the goods in important games.

Aisling Cull and Aimee O’Higgins provided 3-2 off the bench against Fermanagh in the Ulster final, and super-sub Orla Swail was the match-winner with her goal in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Whilst players will never want to start the game on the bench, Lynch emphasised the important role that substitutes have in their team.

“Of course, everyone wants to get on the pitch,” he said.

“We have a term ‘finishers’ to describe the girls who come in from the bench. In the Ulster final and against Carlow, substitutes won the game for us, scoring goals which we were struggling to find.

“Every player is in the frame. We had an in-house game the other night and there was terrific competition; you could see people were pushing really hard for places. It’s a good headache to have, because we have strength all over the pitch.”

Lynch and Sloan have reiterated their long-term commitment to Down on several occasions, and gaining promotion out of junior will be the first step towards getting where they want to go.

“If we’re here for the long game, then ideally we would like to move up a grade and compete at a higher level,” said Lynch.

“If it happens this year or next year or whenever it may come, we’ll just keep working towards that. If we perform at our best – which I think we’ll need to do – then we’ll be in with a good shot.

“But we want to improve Down long term. There are a lot of really good players coming through in Down from the Minor and u-16 teams. The u-14s won an All-Ireland. There is great work being done at underage, so we’re hopeful that there is plenty there to build on.

“This could be a good springboard for it, but we’ll think about that after Sunday.”

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