Down must draw on spirit of last year against old foes Cork
Allianz Football League Division Two: Down v Cork (tomorrow, Pairc Esler, 1.30pm)
THE result of this fixture turned Down’s 2017 season around and tomorrow the Mournemen will go out to prove that they have kicked on from the draw that saved their Division Two skin.
After an hour at Pairc Ui Rinn last year, the Mournemen trailed 1-10 to 0-10 and were staring down the barrel of relegation to Division Three. But they refused to lose and scores from the Johnston brothers, Jerome and Ryan, dragged them back from the brink and sent Derry to the third tier instead.
The craic on the team bus up from Cork that evening must have been mighty. The Down players returned home determined to build on what they had achieved and their run to the Ulster final – which included wins over Armagh and Monaghan – saw them match their words with actions.
Eamonn Burns’ men began this year’s campaign by beating Louth in Drogheda last Sunday. The pitch was heavy, conditions were difficult and Down had to weather a late ‘Wee County’ storm before Connaire Harrison’s clinical finishing saw them emerge with a six-point win.
Afterwards Burns admitted that Cork would be “a different kettle of fish” and the Rebels will travel north bolstered by the knowledge that they haven’t lost to Down in a decade. Since 2008, Cork have beaten the Mournemen four times – including the 2010 All-Ireland final – and drawn once (last year).
“It’s a home game for us and it’ll be a different kettle of fish altogether,” said Burns.
“We went there last year and got a result that kick-started our season, so we’ll be expecting a tough game from Cork.”
Burns was optimistic that Ryan Johnston would be back for tomorrow’s clash. Johnston has returned to training after recovering from injury and he would be another welcome addition to the squad after experienced Burren pair Kevin McKernan and Donal O’Hare returned to the fray last weekend.
Meanwhile, Rebels boss Ronan McCarthy has named Colm O’Neill in his starting line-up and his return has softened the hammerblow that Douglas clubman Sean Powter would miss the rest of Cork's League campaign.
The Ireland International Rules star tore a hamstring against Tipperary last Saturday and scans this week have confirmed fears that he will be sidelined until the Championship.
“We’d be hopeful but we couldn’t guarantee that he’d be back in training by May,” McCarthy said.
“In terms of severity, it’s right up there and there are no shortcuts that can be taken. The players’ welfare is the most important thing and rushing somebody back would be a false economy, because you increase the likelihood of it happening again.
“We'll just have to play the waiting game, give it the time that’s required and hope that Sean is back at some stage in the summer.”
Powter was one of only six survivors from last year’s Championship clash with Mayo who lined out against Tipperary last weekend. Without the experience of the likes of Paul Kerrigan (preparing for the club championship with Nemo Rangers), Michael Shields (retired) and Eoin Cadogan (committed to the county’s hurlers) McCarthy has had to start the season with a host of new faces, particularly in defence.
Liam McGrath (2-5) and Michael Quinlivan (1-2) tore holes in the Cork rearguard during Tipp’s win at the new Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Down will hope that their forwards can do the same tomorrow.
With Benny McArdle playing as sweeper, the Mournemen looked solid for most of last Sunday’s win in Drogheda.
Louth bossed midfield in the second half but Down flooded the middle third with bodies and Harrison, particularly when O’Hare joined him, gave the side a real cutting edge in attack.
History is against Down in this fixture, but form and momentum is with them. After their loss last week, confidence must be brittle in the Cork ranks so if the Mournemen find their feet early on they can make it two out of two tomorrow.
Cork: M White; S Ryan, J O'Sullivan, M McSweeney; K Flahive, B O'Driscoll, T Clancy; I Maguire, C O'Hanlon; S White, K Crowley, R Deane; J O'Rourke, C O'Neill, M Collins.