Tipperary will have too much for Down, leaving Mournemen in need of another Houdini act
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Down v Tipperary (tomorrow, 2pm, Pairc Esler)
IT took a dramatic, last gasp leveller at the home of nemesis Cork to secure their Division Two status on the final day of last year’s League campaign, and Down must beat Tipperary tomorrow to avoid staring down the barrel of a gun once more.
Jerome Johnston’s late, late show at Pairc Ui Chaoimh provided the catalyst for the Championship when the Mournemen exceeded expectations en route to a first Ulster final in five years.
And hopes were high heading into this year’s League that, emboldened by those summer wins over Armagh and Monaghan, Down were at the beginning of an upward curve.
The reality, however, has been one of frustration and infuriating inconsistency.
The early promise of victory over Louth was cancelled out by a lacklustre display at home to Cork. A result in Roscommon came like a bolt from the blue, but was immediately followed up with a below-par showing at home to Clare.
There were positives to take from defeat to table-toppers Cavan last weekend, though again the Mournemen had only themselves to blame for boarding the bus empty-handed, passing up four golden goalscoring opportunities as they lost out by three.
All of a sudden, with just two games remaining, a sense of panic is beginning to set in.
Tomorrow Tipperary bid to become the third Munster county to leave Pairc Esler with two points, accelerating their own promotion ambitions and sending Down towards a win-or-bust date with Meath on the last day.
The loss of forward Barry O’Hagan - who started the games against Roscommon and Clare - and the rumblings of discontent following his departure have not helped the cause.
Also, the fact that boss Eamonn Burns will be forced to watch from the stand following his altercation with Cavan’s Oisin Kiernan is an unwelcome sideshow.
However, considering Down have lost eight of their nine home League games during his time in charge, there are clearly deeper issues beyond who is delivering the orders from the line.
Darren O’Hagan’s likely return from a groin injury would be a timely boost, while the experience of Peter Turley – who came back into midfield against Cavan – could be vital against a big, strong Tipp team.
Premier boss Liam Kearns said earlier in the week that Down were due to give someone a hiding sooner or later, and hoped it wasn’t his men who felt their wrath.
The Mournemen can’t continue to squander the amount of chances they have so far in some big games, but no doubt those comments were a bit of cute-hoorism from Kerry native Kearns too.
With forwards like Conor Sweeney, Liam McGrath and the deadly Michael Quinlivan, they will fancy their chances against a fairly resolute Down defence, while they will be keen to assert their dominance at midfield from early.
The clever stationing of Gearoid McKiernan around centrefield for kick-outs in Cavan’s win over Down last week will not have gone unnoticed by Kearns, with McKiernan then operating further forward when the game was in full flow to inflict maximum damage.
And where the Breffnimen always seemed to be able to get their shooters on the ball in scoreable positions, the Mournemen haven’t quite cracked that code.
Therefore it is hard to see anything other than a victory that will keep Tipp in the shake-up for Division One football, while Down head to Navan knowing that, this time, a draw won’t be enough to save their skin.