Down face Tipperary but their fate hinges on Louth beating Meath in Division Two dogfight
Allianz National Football League Division 2: Down v Tipperary (today, Pairc Esler, 3pm)
WINS on the road in Louth and now promoted Roscommon had given Down a fighting chance of staying in this division, but survival is out of their hands now.
The Mournemen take the field at Pairc Esler this afternoon having to beat Tipperary to have any chance of avoiding the drop and, even if they do, they have to hope that Pete McGrath’s Louth can pull off an unlikely win over Meath in Drogheda for them to stay up.
Despite their nine-point loss to Meath in Navan last Sunday, success in the first element of today’s equation is not beyond Down.
The final scoreline at Pairc Tailteann conceals what was, in parts, a decent performance from the Mournemen. There was no lack of effort from the men in red and black and they would have had a first-minute goal themselves but for an excellent save from Meath goalkeeper Andy Colgan. After his save the Royals scored two goals inside four minutes and that basically decided the result.
Even after those early setbacks, Down could have cut the gap to two points before the break when Donal O’Hare was clearly fouled. However, the referee ignored Down’s appeals for a free and the influential Kevin McKernan was black-carded in the next passage of play.
Down battled on without him but two late goals from Meath (who deservedly won the game) killed them off and left them a point ahead in the table with one game left to play.
One of the positives on the day was the return to action of Ryan McAleenan who had spent almost a year on the sidelines recovering from a knee injury. The Warrenpoint clubman hasn’t given up hope of a last minute reprieve for the Mournemen.
“The boys are focussed on Saturday because you just never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
“Look at last year’s result, nobody expected us to get a result in Cork and for Derry and Fermanagh to work out the way it did.
“We’re just going to try and take care of our part and hopefully Pete McGrath and Declan Mussen can do us a bit of a favour with Louth.
“It’s a big rivalry for them and it’s in Louth. We went there in our first league game this year and we struggled in the first half, though we pulled away in the last 15 minutes. We’ll just have to pray that something happens.”
While Down were struggling in Navan, Liam Kearns’ Tipperary had a toe in Division One before relentless Cavan leapfrogged them at Kingspan Breffni. That one-point loss means Tipp have nothing to play for this afternoon and that should play into the hands of a Down side that will be fighting for their lives in front of their home fans.
However, Down’s fate hinges on what happens over the Cooley Mountains in Drogheda. Pete McGrath’s ‘Wee County’ were promoted last season but go back to the third tier after losing six games on-the-trot.
With a Leinster preliminary round clash against Carlow coming up on May 13, McGrath knows a win today will improve morale in the dressingroom and if that happens to do Down a favour, it’s a bonus.
“I'd be very happy to do Down a favour,” said the Rostrevor native who took Down to All-Ireland titles in 1991 and 1994.
“I don't want to see Down in Division 3 next season. But my priority is getting a big performance out of my team - that's the biggest favour I can do Down at this point in time.
“Hopefully we can get something out of the match, some confidence, and if that impacts on where Down are next year, that's fine by me.”
The pitch in Navan last weekend was tailormade for the pacey Meath forwards, but they will find the going harder against their Leinster neighbours on the narrow, heavy surface at Drogheda’s Gaelic Grounds.
However, Meath skipper Bryan Menton says the Royals are determined to go and get the win they need to clinch survival.
“We’ve half the job done, we have to go up to Louth and give it socks now,” said the midfielder.
“It’s win or a bust, it’s another pressure game and it’ll test the characters of the lads. I would prefer if it was fighting for Division One but we have to get the job done to remain in Division Two.”
Down will need to tighten up their defence and find the energy to support their inside forwards, but victory is not beyond them against Tipperary, but it is hard to see Meath slipping up against a Louth side that has struggled to plug leaks in their defence all season.
The good for Down is they should win, the bad news is it won’t save them from relegation.