Sports

Down looking for hat-trick

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

AFTER fine wins against Meath and Derry, Down go into Saturday night's National League game against Kildare at Pairc Esler (throw-in 7pm) in a confident mood and looking for a hat-trick of victories.

True the Mourne men did lose both their opening league fixtures - at home to Fermanagh and away to Clare - but the last two matches have seen an amazing change of fortune with Down playing super stuff and defeating teams that previously would have strongly fancied their chances against Eamonn Burns' men.

When questioned about Down's change of fortune, manager Burns told the Democrat: "We're better organised now. More experienced players have been available to us - but that's not to say that the younger players didn't do well.

They did. But the experienced players have settled the team a wee bit. And once we got the ball rolling it was easier to keep it rolling. Still winning is sometimes about making the right decisions.

“Meath was a must-win game and thankfully we got two points on the board while the win in Derry gave the players a big lift. It's so encouraging," said Burns.

Kildare head the Division Two table on six points, winning three and losing one but with the likes of Caolan Mooney, Kevin McKernan, Conor Maginn and Ryan Johnston in top form, the men from the Mournes will be keen to give the success-starved red and black-shirted fans another memorable evening - and with any luck they could join Kildare at the head of affairs.

Before the Meath match many pundits were tipping Down for relegation but now those same pundits have reversed their line of thinking and now actually see them as promotion candidates.

Manager Burns is happy with the way his team are playing but even before the double wins, the boss was pleased with the way his team were training. In the opening half against Meath and also in the first half against Derry, Down blitzed their rivals with fast, incisive football. Rostrevor's Mooney, playing at wing-half was the catalyst with his blistering pace and willingness to run at the opposition.

While Burren's Kevin McKernan has added experience and leadership to the side. Skipper Darren O'Hagan is playing some of the best football of his career with Darragh O'Hanlon beginning to impose himself on games.

Also Ballyholland's Joe Murphy, Glenn's Shay Millar and St Peter's Ryan McAleenan have added a freshness to the team.

On Saturday's match, boss Burns said: "We're looking forward to meeting Kildare. "It's a big game. The way the league is going it's tight at both the top and the bottom. Derry and Cork are below us - but just by one point. We are playing the league leaders. I know we beat Derry while they lost to them, but apparently they (Kildare) were very unlucky against Derry."

On the question of whether Down can win promotion, Eamonn said: "We're taking one game at a time and hopefully we can get a result against Kildare. We're not getting carried away."

When asked about injuries in the camp, the Down manager answered: "We do have a couple of wee niggles but hopefully we will get over them and the week's break has helped to rejuvenate the players.

“Gerard McGovern got a bad knock against Derry and had to come off a half-time. He's our one major doubt but he's made a lot of progress and so we're hoping he'll be fit to face Kildare."

Still beating the Lilywhites will be no easy task. This season in the National League Kildare have beaten Cork by six points, Meath by 10 points and Fermanagh by 12. And their only defeat was to Derry by late, late score. Plus they have some fine players such as captain Eoin Doyle as well as Neil Flynn, Kevin Feely, Paul Gribben and Niall Kelly.

Nonetheless with those wins against Meath and Derry fresh in the memory, the big crowd that hopefully will pack into Pairc Esler on Saturday evening will go home happy to see their Down stars record their third win on the spin and put themselves in the frame for a return to Division One.

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