Ceilum Doherty: ‘To be a top team, you have to be clinical’

Down will learn from defeat to Westmeath in Division Three final insists Kilcoo star

Ceilum Doherty has been Down's top performer as they achieved promotion from Division Three. Picture by Brendan Monaghan
Ceilum Doherty has been Down's top performer as they achieved promotion from Division Three. Picture by Brendan Monaghan

THE hour or so after Saturday night’s defeat to Westmeath wasn’t really the time to indulge in a post-mortem of Down’s campaign to date.

On the back of a promotion-sealing performance against Clare six days earlier, a victory that lifted a weight from around the county’s shoulders, they came to Croke Park as men on a mission – only for some familiar frustrations leading them to leave empty-handed for the second time in nine months.

Confronted with Meath’s packed defence in the Tailteann Cup final last July, Down’s flying start eventually ran aground as the Royals wrestled back control, their ability to punish the Mournemen from distance proving the difference as Colm O’Rourke’s side secured their spot in this year’s All-Ireland series.

Saturday’s Division Three decider followed a similar pattern as Down’s early momentum ebbed away in a blur of bad wides and unforced errors – that first competitive defeat of the year a wake-up call for Conor Laverty’s side with an Ulster Championship quarter-final against Antrim looming.

Ceilum Doherty has been transformed into a raiding corner-back this year, the Kilcoo man Down’s stand-out player as they went one better than 2023 by escaping the clutches of the third tier.

Yet the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game was too raw a time to start eulogising personal progress.

“The modern game is more like basketball - everyone defends, everyone attacks, anywhere the lads want me to play, I’ll play,” said the 27-year-old.

“Look, the management have put all their faith in me and I’m glad to play anywhere on the field. Wherever they want me to play, I’ll do it. That’s what I like doing... I like representing Down to the best of my ability.

“At the start of the year our aim was to get out of Division Three, and thankfully we got out of there. We just didn’t have enough today.”

By this stage it was fairly clear, and understandable too, that Doherty would rather have been almost anywhere other than being asked to pick the bones out of defeat.

Half an hour earlier Doherty and the rest of Down’s men in black stood and watched as Westmeath’s injured captain Kevin Maguire went up to collect the Division Three trophy, the shouts of the small band of Westmeath supporters piercing the night air.

It would be a raw for a while yet.

“It’s a hard place,” he said, head bowed, “you don’t like losing.

“Boys come here to put their best foot forward to win but listen, it is what it is. We’ve just got to learn from it. We have Antrim in two weeks.

“We probably missed a few chances and to be a top team, you have to be clinical. But we’ll learn from it and move on.”

A couple of hundred yards along the concourse beneath Croke Park, Kilcoo club-mate Laverty had just faced a similar inquisition. The ability to make the Lake County pay from distance had proved costly, he admitted, but one loss would not be allowed to undo the strides made.

“We had done a lot of work over the past couple of weeks on that and the ability to shoot from distance... we just weren’t as fluid as we would have liked to be,” said Laverty.

“We did have depth to our game, just being able to take that score from outside the scoring range was the thing that let us down... it’s probably been up and down a wee bit in the League and we don’t really want that. We want to get steady progress, but we’re into a new competition now, we’ll dust ourselves off.

“We came here wanting to win and expecting to win, we just didn’t achieve that. We didn’t get to that level of performance. It is disappointing that we’ve come to two finals and haven’t come away with anything, but this is a young group and they’re learning.

“We’re on an upward curve and it’s a learning curve for them, but it’s something we need to rectify very quickly.”

The one major positive for the Mournemen, however, was the return of Clonduff forward Barry O’Hagan 14 months on from suffering a horror injury in a League clash with Antrim at Pairc Esler.

“It was great to see Barry coming back.

“He has put a lot of work in, I was just delighted to see him getting back out onto the pitch because I know the effort and the dedication he has put in to get there.”