Louth won't be whipping boys warns Pete McGrath ahead of League opener against Down
LOUTH have no intention of becoming the whipping boys of Division Two, manager Pete McGrath has warned.
Rostrevor native McGrath, who faces his native Down in Sunday's NFL opener in Drogheda, says the ‘Wee County' players are determined to prove their worth in the second tier after back-to-back promotions over the past two seasons.
Before a ball is kicked, Louth have been installed as relegation favourites and McGrath is well aware that opponents will have targeted their fixtures against his side as must-win games.
“It's possible that a number of teams in the division will look at the Louth fixture and say ‘this is a game we really have to win',” said McGrath.
“We are the favourites for relegation and that's fine but Sunday is the first game, we're at home and we only have three home matches so it's critical that we get something out of the game.
“We will be looking for certain boxes to be ticked and if we tick them I think we'll be in with a shout against Down as we will be against all the teams in this division.”
This time last year, McGrath took Fermanagh to Newry for a Division Two opener they won by nine points. The two-time All-Ireland winner parted company with the Ernemen at the end of the season and was quickly enticed across the border to Louth.
“Two years ago, Louth were playing in Division Four,” he pointed out.
“There are players here who are up to inter-county football but coming from Division Three to Division Two is a step up.
“You're coming into more exalted company so the League will stretch us, but it will stretch all the teams. I think it will be a very competitive division and from what I have seen I think we'll be capable of holding our own with a lot of the teams in the division.”
Meanwhile, after surviving a relegation dogfight last year, Down will look to establish themselves in the second division in this campaign. The Mourne county's 2017 resurgence caught many good judges off guard, but not McGrath.
“A Down renaissance never surprises me,” he said.
“If you look back through the history of Down football it was the kind of breakthrough that happens quite regularly.
“Whenever you least expect Down to be a threat or make a major impact quite often that's when they do it.
“Whenever I was managing Down we always knew the importance of the first game in the Ulster Championship. If you get over the first game you get belief and momentum and Down teams, more than most, are able to feed off that and get that extra spring in their step that pulls them along.”
Down's management last year – Eamonn Burns and Cathal Murray – both played under McGrath in the teams that lifted the Sam Maguire in 1991 and again in 1994. After their quarter-final win over Armagh that “spring in their step” (some call it the Down swagger) flooded back into the panel.
“When they beat Armagh not a lot of people gave them much hope against Monaghan, but it was typical Down.
“On the night Down got at them, they got in around them and they got the scores at the right times and dug in and held on. It didn't surprise me that they got to the Ulster final, nothing would ever surprise me about Down football or Down teams and it most definitely has done that panel of players a lot of in terms of building their confidence and their determination to push on from last season.”