Down learning how to win the tight games says Kevin McKernan ahead of promotion battle with Louth
DOWN are learning how to win the tight games, says Kevin McKernan as the Mournemen look ahead to Sunday’s crucial clash with near-neighbours Louth.
Victory in Newry will send Down back up to Division Two but anything less and they’ll face a nervy wait on the outcome of other games in a claustrophobic League that could go right to the wire.
After losing their opener to promotion rivals Laois, Paddy Tally’s side have now won five games on-the-trot and three of those victories have come by virtue of last-minute scores.
“We always knew that this division was going to be really tight,” said Down sweeper McKernan.
“We’ve given ourselves and really good opportunity but when it comes down to the last few games it’s like Championship football and thankfully this team is starting to learn to win and learn to see games out and that is giving a lot of confidence to boys to trust each other and play to the system that we want.
“This run started on a dire day down in Sligo. Every game has thrown things at us, we’ve had men sent off and difficult conditions when you’ve had to adapt your game and the boys have shown the quality to do that.”
In the six League games so far, manager Tally has used a total of 33 players and, although the line-up now has an increasingly settled look to it, only four - Rory Burns, Colm Flanagan, Johnny Flynn and Conor Poland – have started all six.
Tally has used five substitutes in every game and some of them, notably Cory Quinn (two goals against Offaly) and Paul Devlin (four points last Saturday against Carlow), have been inspired switches.
“It’s getting to the point now where training sessions have become so competitive that we’re looking at 30 or 35 men who are pushing for places,” said McKernan.
“There’s boys who aren’t making squads and they’re very disappointed about that so we’ve a culture where we have plenty of men who are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel and willing to bide their time for their chance.
“The likes of Ceilum Doherty are coming in and it’s giving us plenty of options building towards the Championship that boys have game-time and confidence to do a job for the team.”
Kilcoo clubman Doherty played his past as Down edged out Carlow in a see-saw affair at Dr Cullen Park last Saturday. All three results were still possible as the game went into injury-time but Donal O’Hare’s late score got the Mournemen over the line at the death.
“We got ourselves into a situation because we lacked discipline in the first half and we gave them four or five points,” said McKernan.
“Carlow weren’t really cutting us open, it was poor tackling and indiscipline and the referee was moving frees in.
“It’s something we’ll work on but we showed great character in the second half and I think picking points off with that wind was difficult but there was some good kicking for the boys and a never-say-die attitude which is encouraging.
“The boys are coming on from the bench and they give us plenty of fight and that’s what you’re looking for in dogged games. We got over the line and we’re probably lucky enough to get the win.
“It was difficult place to go and you’re never going to get scores easy with the set-up that they have. It was just getting the right men on the ball at the right time and Paul Devlin, Donal O’Hare and Caolan Mooney made fantastic kicks and you need them in tight games.
“That’s what those boys are there for and thankfully we have plenty of them on the team and plenty of boys willing to come on and do the same.”