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Pete McGrath's Down prepare for clash with unbeaten Kildare

Down manager Peter McGrath
Andy Watters

AFTER chinning Cork and taking maximum points from their last three NFL tests, a certain spring appears back in Down's step as they size up a clash with unbeaten Kildare tomorrow at Pairc an Iuir. Peter McGrath has opted for one in, one out and two positional moves for the test.

A first round tumble to Wicklow aside, Down have plotted a steady course back into the race for the play-offs, and regrading to next season's Division One. McGrath's rebuilding programme gained a solid boost two weeks ago when Cork were run ragged and hammered out of sight. Down's best league showing for some time, their young recruits continued to improve and grow in confidence and respond to the clever promptings of Mickey

Linden, midfield power-play of Conor Deegan and sharp forward skills of Gerard Deegan. Malachy McMurray, Shane Ward and Gavin Murdock among others gave impressive accounts against Cork, and manager McGrath will be hoping the confidence gained from that result will be given added impetus tomorrow.

A win would bring Down on level terms with Kildare going into the Christmas break, before finishing their regulation games at Clare and home to Limerick with a bye in round seven.

Kildare's closing games are at home to Clare and Cork and away to Roscommon. The win over Cork should attract a big crowd to Newry, and with confidence growing Down will be looking for a crisp festive tonic to launch into the New Year in a very positive frame of mind.

CELTIC head coach Wim Jansen is determined to halt Hearts' title charge at Parkhead today. Hearts lead the premier division by two points from champions Rangers with Celtic a further three points adrift knowing they cannot afford to lose at home to Jim Jefferies' side.

Boosted by the £2million arrival of Norwegian Harald Brattbakk from Rosenborg, Jansen now feels he has enough options to satisfy his own tactical verve.

He said: “We can close the gap on Hearts to two points if we beat them so I think everyone knows the importance of the game. “Hearts have played very well

to top the table with a stable side and it is up to us to reduce the lead they have. “It will be hard game as they can play to a high level and I feel they are genuine title contenders.” When asked whether Brattbakk might start today, Jansen was non-committal, but revealed it was a possibility. He added: “Harald looked very good in training today, but the decision whether or not to play him must wait until tomorrow.

“I don't think we will need to change the formation for his arrival, in fact he really gives us more options as he can play in

several positions. “The squad we have now is versatile and has reached the stage where I don't feel I need to go out and buy another player tomorrow.”

Yet Hearts boss Jefferies refuses to subscribe to the theory that defeating the Old Firm is vital to his side's ambitions. He said: “Everybody is saying we have got to go out and beat the Old Firm but Celtic are five points behind us.

“We will go there knowing that if we win it puts us further in front and the pressure will be all on them to beat us. “We are in a great position, and we are capable of learning from last time when they defeated us 21 at home back in October.”

A UNIFICATION fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield appears a distant prospect as the British star's camp face up to finding an alternative opponent for the WBC heavyweight champion.

Attempts to pair Lewis with WBA and IBF holder Holyfield have run headlong into a cul-de-sac with apparently no chance of a U-turn. A clash with Shannon Briggs in Atlantic City on Friday, March 6 or James ‘Buster' Douglas in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 7 now looks the most likely alternative.

“The Holyfield fight could be gone this weekend,” said Lewis' promoter Panos Eliades. “I haven't heard from Don King. He's got the contracts and time is almost up.

“I'm working on Briggs and Douglas. The deal with Douglas' promoter Bob Arum is done and we are just about to conclude the deal with Briggs' handlers Cedric Kushner and Mark Roberts.

“I don't know what Holyfield is hearing but he's not hearing the right noises.”

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