‘I’ll not say training is easy...’ Hard yards pay off as Down prepare for League final against Westmeath

Liam Kerr says Mournemen are relishing opportunity to play at Croke Park

Down's Liam Kerr celebrates Downs first goal during  the GAA Allianz Football  Division Three Round Four game between Down and Offaly  at Páirc Esler, Newry 0n 02-24-2024
Liam Kerr celebrates a goal against Offaly. The Burren clubman scored in six of Down's seven League games. Picture: Philip Walsh

ARE you gonna quit on me? Are ye? Are you gonna quit on me?

Nobody quits...

Tales of blood, sweat and tears at Down’s pre-season training sessions did the rounds and – whether they are actually true or not – there’s no doubt that the fitness levels in the squad are very high.

From the throw-in right to the final whistle, the Down players run relentlessly in games and their best work comes from intricate short-passing movements designed to slice through opposition defences.

Their high-energy game saw them top Division Three unbeaten with six wins and a draw and score 14 goals while amassing 145 points in total, 34 more than the second highest scorers Offaly. Meanwhile, their defence was the second best in the division.

Manager Conor Laverty has utilised the electric pace in his panel and no-one has more of it than fleet-footed Burren half-forward Liam Kerr who agrees that the hard yards on the training ground are paying off on match days.

“We put in a really good shift,” says Kerr, who scored in six of Down’s seven games for a total of 2-11.

“I’ll not say training is easy. Look everyone buys into it and those trainings makes us stronger. Everyone seems to enjoy it. Well, I say ‘enjoy’ - we get through them anyway and it pays off when you get promoted and you’re looking ahead to a League final.

John McGovern, second from right, made his inter-county debut at senior level on Sunday. Picture: Philip Walsh
Down clinched promotion with an impressive showing against Clare last Sunday. Picture: Philip Walsh

“The boys are running all through the games, we kind of ran over the top of Clare in the end so, yeah, it’s good.”

Down confirmed promotion and their place in Saturday night’s Division Three final against Westmeath thanks to an impressive final half-hour against Clare at Pairc Esler last Sunday. The Bannermen had the cut the deficit between the teams to two points early in the second half but Down reacted impressively and goals from Odhran Murdock and Danny Magill sent them on their way to Croke Park with a clear-cut victory.

“We could have got the job done against Westmeath but we didn’t do ourselves justice down in Mullingar,” said Kerr.

“We knew we needed a performance in front of the Down supporters and from the word go we were on it.

“We knew how good Clare are, if they had beaten us they were going up and they had some good wins in Division Three and that made us up our game. We were glad to get over the line and set up a big game on Saturday night.”

There have been calls from some quarters for the National League finals to be abandoned to create more space in the GAA calendar. Down go into the Division Three decider just six days after their final League game and then welcome Antrim to Pairc Esler for an Ulster quarter-final on April 13.

It’s a hectic schedule but playing at Headquarters is always special, says Kerr.

“We don’t get to play in Croke Park that much and it’s something we’re aspiring to do,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to going down and I’m all for it.”

Whatever the League final and the Championship brings, Down have taken another step on their development by forcing their way into Division Two next year.

“It’s crucial for this group,” says Kerr.

“It’s another stage in our development because the top two divisions is where you want to be playing and, who knows, next year we’ll push on again and see where it takes us.”