Guinness: Hurt from past defeats can drive Down on in latest Tailteann Cup bid

Mournemen lost last year’s decider to Meath

Down's Daniel Guinness and Pierce Laverty Limerick's Barry Coleman in action during the GAA All-Ireland Senior Championship Tailteann Cup group 4 Round 4 on 05-11-2024 at Pairc Esler Newry. Pic Philip Walsh
Daniel Guinness hopes Down can bury the memory of last year's Tailteann Cup final defeat to Meath when they face Laois on Saturday. Picture by Philip Walsh

AROUND the other side of Croke Park, the Dublin and Monaghan players were waiting in the wings.

For the blue hordes still filing in as throw-in neared, All-Ireland semi-finals were a dime a dozen by now, their late arrival indicative of a decade of remarkable success.

The Farneymen have been no strangers to these days either, their golden generation going to the well time and again, ending the wait for Ulster glory and not giving up their search for the big one.

These were the big occasions Down craved being a part of. Less than 18 months earlier, Conor Laverty was part of the Kilcoo side crowned All-Ireland kings on the same patch of green.

In his first year in charge, the Mournemen had restored some pride from the wreckage of the 2022 campaign. But narrowly missing out on promotion to Division Two meant the Tailteann Cup was their only chance left of securing a crack at the big boys.

When the final came around against Meath, it was an opportunity they failed to grasp, the Royals turning the screw following an underwhelming first half.

The Down bus hummed as Conor Laverty crossed the corridor to face the media. Daniel Guinness, Pierce Laverty and Ceilum Doherty stood together outside the changing room door – barely a word spoken, their faces saying it all.

History repeated itself in April’s Division Three final defeat to Westmeath, talk of a Croke Park hoodoo gathering pace until Sligo were edged out after extra-time to send Laverty’s men into another Tailteann Cup decider against Laois on Saturday.

But those losses still sting, particularly the one 12 months ago as Down watched the bridge across to the All-Ireland Championship crumble into the pit below.

“They’ll definitely be a big motivation… those defeats on the big day, they are hard to take,” said Guinness

“We knew what was at stake going into them games and unfortunately in both games we sort of fell short.”

The Carryduff man has been at the heart of Down’s steady improvement in year two of the Laverty project, however.

Guinness was among the Mourne County’s most solid performers during a League campaign that delivered promotion into the second tier, those familiar bursts from deep seeing him become a regular feature on the scoreboard.

Defeat to Sligo would have been a disaster and, on a different day, it could have been another one that got away. But it wasn’t, and that is crucial. Instead, despite a kamikaze finish, they held their nerve and saw it out – helping erase some of the ghosts of days gone by.

“We don’t think we performed anywhere near to what we think we’re capable of [against Meath and Westmeath], but I think we’ve learnt and studied the video from both of them games and sort of identified basically the big areas where we think we can make improvements.

“Definitely the hurt and the feeling after those two games will hopefully give us an extra drive going into that game on Saturday.

“I suppose the only thing you can do after is learn from them and use them as fuel going forward into the big matches, both in your preparation on the training pitch to get yourself into the position to hopefully perform better, but also on the day itself then they also help.”