Conor Laverty: Down wanted Ulster semi-final in Newry or Armagh

‘It would’ve made a lot of sense for people travelling to the game’ says Down boss ahead of Armagh clash

Conor Laverty puts Down through their paces ahead of last Saturday night's Division Three clash with Offaly. Picture by Philip Walsh
Conor Laverty says Down would have been happy to toss a coin for Saturday's Ulster semi-final to be held in Newry or Armagh, rather than Clones. Picture by Philip Walsh

DOWN boss Conor Laverty has questioned the wisdom of taking Saturday’s Ulster semi-final clash with Armagh to Clones – claiming the Mournemen would have been “more than happy” to play in either Pairc Esler or the Athletic Grounds.

It is understood that, following their quarter-final wins, both counties were sounded out by Ulster GAA about tossing a coin to decide the venue. However, an Ulster GAA source has confirmed that Armagh weren’t in favour, therefore the game will go ahead at St Tiernach’s Park.

Earlier this week it was decided that the Munster football final will take place at Cusack Park in Ennis following a coin toss between Kerry and Clare. Last year’s meeting between the sides was played at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick but the stadium is not available on May 5 as the Great Limerick Run is being staged in the city.

And Laverty feels adopting a similar approach for Saturday’s game would have been “a sensible decision”.

“People have asked me, and asked the Down County Board, why the game wasn’t tossed for. We were asked the question, we had agreed and thought it would’ve made sense to toss for where the game was,” he said.

“Just with the current economic climate that we’re in, it would’ve been a great boost to the local businesses in either Newry or Armagh, who probably support both counties very well.

“We felt it would’ve made a lot of sense for people travelling to the game, for young families wanting to go... it would’ve created a real buzz in either Newry or Armagh.

“As a management team and a county board we had agreed on our side that we were willing to toss for the game – even if that meant going to the Athletic Grounds, we’d have been more than happy with that. We felt it just made sense.

“The Munster final is a case in point, and I think it was a sensible decision.”

Armagh GAA were contacted for a response, while a spokesperson for Ulster GAA said: “Venues for Ulster Championship games are fixed by the Ulster Competitions Control Committee. Clones was proposed, seconded and agreed in the normal manner for this fixture.”

Daniel Guinness looks on enviously as Rian O'Neill of Armagh celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal last year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rian O'Neill celebrates after scoring Armagh's fourth goal in last year's Ulster semi-final victory over Down. Picture by Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

The pair met at the same stage - at the same venue - 12 months ago, with goals from Andrew Murnin, Shane McPartlan, Ciaran Mackin and Rian O’Neill helping Armagh to a one-sided victory over their neighbours.

The Orchardmen went on to lose on penalties to Derry in the Ulster final, and by the same means against Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but have bounced back impressively this year on the way to sealing promotion from Division Two.

And Laverty believes Kieran McGeeney’s men have improved in the time since the counties last collided.

“We’re under no illusions about of the size of the task ahead,” said the Kilcoo man.

“We get where the two teams are in terms of development - Armagh are 10 years under their management, this is only our second year, so they are much further down the track.

“We understand that, but we also know going into any Championship game, particularly in the Ulster Championship, that there’s always a desire there to win the game.

“The best team won last year, and I believe Armagh are actually even better than they were then, in many respects. They have added in a lot of quality, so the more experience our boys get of playing in these games against big counties, the better they’ll be for it.”

And, after their Division Three final defeat to Westmeath was followed by an underwhelming performance in victory over Antrim, Laverty hopes his men can step up to the mark on Saturday.

“Every day the players pull on a Down jersey, they have a responsibility to do that jersey proud.

“That’s what we’ll be asking the lads to do on Saturday evening - put a performance in and do the jersey proud, because we probably just dipped below that the last couple of weeks.”