Down seek maiden win in Pairc Esler.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

DOWN footballers await Clare on Sunday in a game they won't take for granted but one they are expected to win.

Sitting on top of Division Two after brilliant win over Roscommon they will be pushing for a return to Division One.

Manager Eamonn Burns has strengthened his squad and given youth a chance following the retirement of established players such as Mark Poland and Aidan Carr as well as Burren's Conaill McGovern and Ballyholland's Joe Murphy taking time out.

Colm Flanagan has grasped his chance and impressed in defence while Longstone's Conor Poland has made an impact around the middle and towards the final third of the pitch.

He has great hands and awareness and is getting better game by game. Kilcoo's Aaron Morgan has impressed with the Magpies in recent seasons and he hasn't been fazed by the step-up to inter-county football.

He typically lines out on the team-sheet at corner forward but his strength is in winning ball around the final third or the middle and setting up attacks or taking scores.

Anthony Doherty, Shay Millar and Niall Donnelly have built on the progress they made last season and have become integral parts of Down's slick attacking team.

Donal O'Hare is another player that impressed against Roscommon. Having hardly kicked the ball in the defeat against Cork, he sprung up with two points from play, converted a free and his overall contribution was excellent.

Of course the delivery into O'Hare was much better against the Rossies and Kilcoo's Ryan Johnston continues to be the spark that ignites counter attacks, although he possess the ability to do even more damage closer to goal.

Much has been made of how well Down coped without the injured Connaire Harrison, which is surprising considering he didn't feature in the National League last year, but his performances in the Ulster Championship and in the All-Ireland Qualifiers turned Down season around.

Barry O'Hagan's injury was a huge blow to Down's chances pushing beyond the last 16 last season and Burns will hope to keep the Clonduff live-wire fit.

His brother Darren remains one of the best man-markers in the country and it can't be underestimated how important he is to this current Down set-up. His tackling, passing, communication as well as his willingness and ability to attack and score.

Rostrevor's Caolan Mooney has grown into his role, since rejoining the squad just over two seasons ago.

His bursts of speed, confidence in the air and range of scoring has impressed and he is another vital player in this current Down team.

A little more one-on-one coaching to assist Mooney in his shooting when making a fast run slowing would be a long-term benefit as the former Aussie Rules rookie as a tendency to rush his shot. That said, his point against Roscommon was one of beauty and Mooney is getting closer to reaching his potential.

Darragh O'Hanlon, Benny McArdle, Kevin McKernan and Conor Maginn add experience and class and with Glenn's Niall McParland nailing down his position this Down team seems to have struck the right balance.

Of course last season's 2-11 to 0-11 defeat away to Clare was one that set the alarms off with rumours of discontent, which have since been dismissed.

But that loss awoken Down enough to react, where they defeated a decent Meath side which was enough to give them a fighting chance of survival.

This year, Down have already started on a stronger footing with two wins away from home, Louth and Roscommon, so victory over the Banner men on Sunday, would be their first of the League in Pairc Esler.

Clare could be without key defenders Jamie Malone and Gordon Kelly, who were sent off against Tipperary, while their manager Colm Collins may not also be on the touch-line as he has been banned but all are expected to appeal.

Down need to beat Clare if they are to be serious about pushing for promotion as bigger tests await them, including two tricky away games to Cavan and Meath with a tough battle against Tipperary at Pairc Esler sandwiched in-between.


Sunday, February 25 Allianz National Football League Division Two Pairc Esler: Down v Clare.

Saturday, March 3, at 7pm Allianz National Football League Division Two Kingspan Breffni Park: Cavan v Down.

Sunday, March 18, at 2pm Allianz National Football League Division Two Pairc Esler: Down v Tipperary.

Sunday, March 25, at 3pm Allianz National Football League Division Two Pairc Tailteann Navan: Meath v Down.

April 1, Easter Sunday At Croke Park: Division Two Finals.


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