‘I don’t believe that at all’: Laverty dismisses Down-Croke Park talk after Westmeath defeat

Mourne County boss believes current All-Ireland Championship qualification system is ‘flawed’

Down manager Conor Laverty pictured during his side's tie with Westmeath. Picture: Louis McNally
Manager Conor Laverty was left disappointed after Down's defeat to Westmeath on Saturday night. Picture: Louis McNally
Allianz National Football League Division Three: Down 0-13 Westmeath 2-10

THE bare stats don’t make for great reading from a Down point of view.

Since the county last won the National League title in 1983, they have lost finals to Meath (1990, Division One), Offaly (2004, Division Two), Tipperary (2009, Division Three), Armagh (2010, Division Two) and Roscommon (2015, Division Two).

As of Saturday night, Westmeath’s name can be added to that list.

Then there’s the Croke Park factor - once the place where Down would never lose, it has been anything but a happy hunting ground in recent decades.

Defeat to the Lake County was hugely disappointing, but Conor Laverty wasn’t delving too deeply into talk of Jones’s Road hoodoos during his post-match press conference.

“I don’t believe so,” he said.

“If you were here last year you would have seen us perform pretty well in the Tailteann Cup semi-final [against Laois].

“I think a Down team have done quite well in the past number of years in Croke Park... if you remember a couple of years ago a Down club team won in Croke Park and became All-Ireland club champions.

“So I don’t believe that at all.”

Yet losing the Division Three decider carried greater ramifications for Down than any other county competing in this weekend’s League finals – and leaves the Mournemen in need of a provincial final place to avoid another unwanted campaign in the Tailteann Cup.

The current system, Laverty feels, is “unbalanced” as counties in other provinces face a more straightforward route to the All-Ireland Championship.

“There’s probably a wee bit of a flaw in the system whenever you are beating teams in the League and they can still get into the Sam Maguire series,” said the Down boss, who says Ryan Johnston will be fit for the Ulster Championship clash with Antrim after injury ruled him out of the Westmeath game.

“But listen, we knew that before we started and we know the prize at stake tonight and that was an opportunity to take a step forward and play in the Sam Maguire which is where this team wants to be.

“I think it is a wee bit unbalanced that a team [Clare] maybe has to beat two Division Four teams to get into the Sam Maguire where we had already beaten them in the League. Ulster is a tough competition.

“We know the challenges Antrim are going to pose to us and maybe the quality in the other provinces is not the same intensity. My opinion would be every year beating a team in the League and getting promoted and somebody below you get into the Sam Maguire is a bit unbalanced.”

John McGovern started in the place of the injured Ryan Johnston at Croke Park on Saturday night. Picture by Brendan Monaghan
John McGovern started in the place of the injured Ryan Johnston at Croke Park on Saturday night. Picture by Brendan Monaghan

And those sentiments were echoed by victorious Westmeath manager Dessie Dolan.

“There was commentary that the Division Three team should be given priority and I totally agree with that - and it’s not just because we won the Division Three title tonight,” said the Garrycastle man.

“I do think if you are in the Connacht Championship and get the right side of the draw and you are in a provincial Championship, that seems absolutely ridiculous to me. Similarly in the Munster Championship, Cork and Kerry are on the one side of the draw that seems ridiculous in two small provinces.

“It is an anomaly and maybe it will be fixed... certainly it would give great importance to Division Three. The opportunity to get into the All-Ireland series would be a massive thing for the competition.”