Down are going places under Paddy Tally insists forward Connaire Harrison
DESPITE Saturday night’s Championship exit to All-Ireland contenders Mayo, Connaire Harrison has insisted that Down are "going places" under Paddy Tally.
The Mournemen were left to rue a host of missed scoring opportunities, including a late goal chance for Donal O’Hare, before being put to the sword by a clinical Mayo side.
However, the majority of Down fans leaving a packed Pairc Esler will look back on the laying of solid foundations this year.
In the absence of experienced men such as Gerard McGovern, Shay Millar, Michael Cunningham, Niall McParland and Anthony Doherty, Tally introduced several fresh faces to the Down panel.
The likes of Pierce Laverty, Cory Quinn, Conor Francis and the Carryduff trio of Owen McCabe and brothers Daniel and James Guinness all forced their way into the reckoning, gaining valuable Championship experience along the way.
So while Saturday night’s result was disappointing, Harrison was focusing on the big picture and predicted better days ahead for the Mourne County.
“Ah, we kicked ourselves out of it,” said the Glasdrumman forward.
“In the first half even we had six or seven chances, we dropped a couple short, frees, 45s… there were numerous chances, and still there was only a kick of a ball in at half-time.
“In the second half they were wide open at the back at times, and maybe if Donal’s shot had gone into the net it might have opened up the chances for another goal.
“But listen, it’s Paddy’s first year here, we’ve a lot of boys only in their first year or called back into the panel; there’s been huge strides made here.
“That’s just the difference when you come up against top level teams - if you don’t take your chances you get punished at some stage. It might not happen straight away but eventually it’ll happen late on in the game.
“But we’ve come a long way, and I would expect next year to take another step up again. It was definitely an encouraging performance, there’s plenty to take away from it.
“This Down team… it’s only the start.”
And the 2017 Allstar nominee was quick to point to the talented bunch coming through at U20 level.
Earlier this month they landed the inaugural Leo Murphy Cup success, and on Sunday Conor Deegan’s side secured an Ulster quarter-final date with Tyrone after seeing off Antrim.
“It’s a long time since we had a good U20 team coming through,” said Harrison.
“We had four or five of those boys training with us at the start of the season as well, that’s probably helped them and they’re ready to make that step up as well.
“We’re going places.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Tally too as he reflected on his first year in charge, and the promise of further improvement in 2020.
He said: “When you’re starting with a brand new team, a new set up and everything else, it's not just a new football team, it is changing a whole culture and environment around the team, creating something that the players can really buy into.
“We think we have that started, there’s more to do obviously, but it takes a lot of work to get it where you want it.
“Now we feel confident that the players know what we are about, and there is a genuine aspiration to do well.”