'The race starts now' admits Down boss Eamonn Burns after Clare defeat
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Down 1-10 Clare 1-12
DOWN'S miserable home record in the National League continued yesterday as they slipped to defeat at the hands of Clare – with boss Eamonn Burns admitting “the race starts now” as they face a nervy end to the campaign.
Pairc Esler hasn't been kind to Burns during his three years in charge, with the Mournemen losing seven of the eight home League games played in Newry, the latest reversal coming after a frustrating afternoon against the Banner.
The visitors sprung into a 1-1 lead inside two minutes, with Sean O'Donoghue rattling Marc Reid's net after just 35 seconds and Eoin Cleary adding the first of six frees scored.
But Down battled back to restore parity when Donal O'Hare scored a goal, which owed much to stunning burst from Caolan Mooney, on 19 minutes.
They couldn't build on that momentum, however, and ended up kicking a total of 15 wides to just two from a ruthlessly efficient Clare. And, despite managing just three points in the second half, the Munster men held on to take a crucial two point victory.
“I don't think it's anything to do with the venue,” said Burns when the issue of Down's recent home record was raised.
“We're doing a lot of things right, we were moving the ball well, retaining possession, good support play coming but today, for whatever reason, we just couldn't put the ball over the bar. Particularly in the second half.
“The first half I thought we played quite well. We started slowly, giving them a goal at the start was disappointing and then we were playing catch-up, but then we had a great move and got a goal back ourselves and it was 1-4 to 1-4.
“But when you have that much possession in the second half and you're shooting and putting the ball wide at an alarming rate, there's only ever going to be one answer.
“If you're going to win games you have to put the ball over the bar… they were value for their win at the end of the day. That puts them on level points with us, so the race starts now.”
Down and Clare - along with Cork - are on four points, with Meath on three and rock bottom Louth facing a major battle to avoid the drop as they remain pointless after four games.
The Mournemen are away to table-toppers Cavan on Saturday night knowing that, with games running out, they need to put points on the board to ensure they don't get dragged into another relegation battle.
Win and all of a sudden they are back in the promotion picture but, regardless, Burns knows only a vastly improved performance will do at Kingspan Breffni Park.
“Hopefully if we can increase our shot percentage we'll be in with a good chance of winning the game, but it's going to be a tough task,” said Burns, who will welcome back forward Connaire Harrison from a two-match suspension.
“They're going well, they're top of the division and they're playing at home, so we know we're going to have to go down there and improve on a whole lot of areas.
“It's consistency you want, because consistency will breed confidence. They know that too, we make that very clear to them. You can't win a day, lose a day, you've got to put a couple of wins back to back and try and push on.”