GAA Football

Criticism of Down commitment the hardest thing to takes says Niall McParland

Down skipper Niall McParland says any criticism of Down's commitment is not justified
Andy Watters

RELEGATION was hard to take, but criticism of the Down players’ desire and commitment hurt even more says Mourne county skipper Niall McParland.

Reflecting on his counties’ drop to Division Three for next season, the Glen clubman defended the work ethic of his team-mates which saw them to wins over Louth, Roscommon and, last Saturday, Tipperary in a competitive second tier campaign.

Losses to Cork, Clare, Cavan and, crucially, Meath ultimately cost Down dear, but McParland insists their relegation wasn’t for any lack of effort.

“The hardest thing to take is people questioning your desire and your commitment,” he said.

“Us boys are out training five or six times a week. Sometimes it doesn’t come together on the day and the pundits can be harsh on you sometimes, the papers can be harsh on you sometimes but you have to take the good with the bad.

“So was nice to go out and put a good performance in and show that there’s still plenty of desire with us.”

Down’s win over Tipperary last Saturday wasn’t enough to keep them up. The Mournemen were depending on Louth beating Meath but, despite leading by a point at half-time, Pete McGrath’s ‘Wee County’ side was well beaten at the finish in Drogheda.

McParland says relegation will not affect Down’s performance in this year’s Championship which begins with an Ulster quarter-final clash with Antrim in Newry on May 26.

“I think we’re still a strong side,” he said.

“I think we were one of the best footballing teams in this League if we can get it all going on the day and there’s no better day than the Championship to get it all going the right way.

“We beat a good Tipperary team and we knew before the game that it (relegation) was out of our hands. We needed a favour down the road and we came out well and said we were going to start preparing for the Championship.

“It’s good to finish the League on a positive and we’ll go in now and get six weeks of good training.”

He added: “We’ll go back to the club now for a few games, take a wee break and then get back training full tilt. We will take the positives where we can – we had some good games, we played well in most of the games.

“I’d say Cork in the second half and Meath were the two bad games, the rest were positive but we just didn’t get the scores. Coming into the Antrim game we’ll be favourites and we’ll just have to accept that.”

McParland said that crucial “moments” had cost Down in the League. A two-point home loss to Clare followed by a three-point defeat in Cavan conspired to see them drop into Division Three for the first time since 2009 even though they had taken more points from their seven games (six) than they managed last year (five).

“Clare at home was massive,” said the hard-working defender.

“We were all over them and Cavan as well – we had 37 shots in total and we only came out with 16 scores. In games like that we need to be more clinical, we were the better team in both those games but we couldn’t put them away.”

He said the Down players had hopes of a ‘great escape’ when they learned that Louth were leading Meath at half-time. But in the end their near neighbours couldn’t get them off the relegation hook.

“We heard Louth were a point up at half-time so that gave us a bit of a squeeze in the second half and I never heard the result until the end,” said McParland.

“But it was out of our hands, we only have ourselves to blame for the situation we were in so all we could do was beat Tipp and we did.”

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