GAA Football

James Guinness: Down's other leaders key to win over Offaly

James Guinness is one of the young players who has been impressing for Down this season.
Pic Seamus Loughran

DOWN were missing major elements of their ‘A Team’ but they loved it when a plan came together in Tullamore.

Without captain Darren O’Hagan and star attacker Donal O’Hare due to injuries, the Mournemen went to Offaly and won well to keep their Division Three promotion hopes very much alive.

James Guinness was one of those who stepped in and stepped up but he paid credit to manager Paddy Tally for creating a positive mind-set in the camp: “Paddy talks about having captains and leaders all over the field and that’s what we tried to implement. Different boys stepping up, keeping the communication going, and not just relying on Darren and Donal. Having boys all over the field who can say ‘We need to control this’ or ‘We need to step up the pace’ or ‘Make tackles’.

“That’s what we’ve tried to bring in this year, getting that leadership built up, rather than just looking to two boys on the field. Get 15, 26 boys – anybody coming off the bench, they should be leading it too.”

Another aspect of the pre-match plan was achieved as well, adding to the victory over Longford the previous weekend, as Carryduff man Guinness explained: “We were looking to put together back-to-back wins, that was a huge factor. What we’re thinking now is ‘Can we get three wins on the bounce?’ All we’re focussed on is the next game and thinking ‘Can we put in a better performance in the next game? Can we raise our level?’”

Having drawn away to Tipperary then beating Ulster rivals Derry, the stimulus in recent games was the defeat away to leaders Cork, according to Guinness: “After the Cork game we really wanted to up it, bring a new intensity to training.

We’re playing 15 against 15 and it’s as competitive as it’s ever been, boys are pushing so hard to get into the squad. “Boys who didn’t get on [against Offaly] or maybe didn’t even travel will be busting a gut over the next two weeks.

We look forward to that, really good, competitive training sessions. If everybody’s pushing then everybody’s getting better too – we really think that’s made a big difference over the last couple of weeks.”

Guinness (left) had shown what he can do on the pitch too, netting a crucial late goal in that two-point win over Longford the previous weekend.

At O’Connor Park, he excelled in the first half with three points from play, although he was modest about his personal performance: “As a half-back you want to be getting forward, pushing on and getting a few scores. Thankfully it opened up a few times – you have to be able to take those chances when you have the wind.

We built up a bit of a lead, then in the second half some of the forwards took great scores. We have scorers from all over the pitch.” The task now for Down is to beat Leitrim then Louth in their remaining two league matches.

With both those counties struggling so far, the Mournemen will be expected to prevail, but Guinness insisted they’ll be taking nothing for granted: “We know that if we play to our potential we should be good enough to beat anybody – but if we don’t play to our potential then anybody can beat us too.

“So we need to be really focussed over the next few weeks, give 100 per cent and build on this performance rather than rest on our laurels. It’s all about getting better now.”

Leitrim come to Newry on Sunday March 15, which might stall Down’s momentum, but Guinness is happy to have the break before setting sights on the next task: “Whenever you’re playing loads of back-to-back games boys pick up niggles and that. It’ll be good to get everyone in this week and focus on, first of all, everybody getting more in the tank, then doing really good analysis on Leitrim. We’ll need to know what we’re about going into that game, come in fresh, and build on this.” 

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GAA Football