Sloan delighted at Down progress as All-Ireland junior champions make Ulster intermediate mark

Mourne county set up semi-final date with defending champions Antrim following win over Cavan

Down's Niamh Scullion on the attack during her side's Ulster Intermediate Football Championship match against Cavan on Sunday    Picture: Louis McNally
Down's Niamh Scullion on the attack during her side's Ulster Intermediate Football Championship match against Cavan on Sunday Picture: Louis McNally

DOWN joint manager Caoibhe Sloan was delighted to see the Mourne county progress to last four of the Ulster Intermediate Championship where they will meet defending champions Antrim.

It was a winning return to the intermediate competition for the management duo of Sloan and Peter Lynch after last year’s All-Ireland junior success and there were plenty of positives to take from their 2-10 to 0-6 win over Cavan in the Sunday’s preliminary round at Páirc Esler.

They were coming up against a new-look Breffni opposition with manager Mickey O’Rourke handing numerous senior championship debuts to his players, who were always going to be up against it, despite playing at a higher league level than their opponents.

Still, it was new territory for Down, who had not played competitively against Cavan for a number of years, having been in that higher league and also playing senior football up until last year.

“Cavan presented a new challenge and it was a bit of stepping into the unknown as you’re trying to judge what they’ll bring from division two, but we had to focus on us and we’re delighted it was enough to get us over the line,” Sloan said.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a step up but it’s what you want and what drove us on last year to get to intermediate and get amongst the better teams and we can only keep building.

Down could afford to be without last year’s All-Ireland Junior Players’ Player of the Year, Natasha Ferris, and were boosted by the return of both long-term injury lay-offs Sarah Dougherty and Alice McAlea with Niamh Rice, who scored a point, making her senior championship debut.

Down joint manager Caoibhe Sloan
Down joint manager Caoibhe Sloan (Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE)

“It was a full team performance, the girls worked hard and played the system really well at times. The sun was shining in Páirc Esler and it was a positive start to the Ulster championship campaign,” said Sloan.

Defending champions Antrim await in the semi-finals in just under two weeks’ time. They came up from junior last year and swopped to the intermediate title but it was been a difficult start for the Saffrons who were relegated from Division Three, where they sides have already met with Down picking up the win.

That was the league though and Sloan knows the championship is a completely different ball game and she expects Antrim to be stronger.

“Attention turns very quickly to Antrim, it really comes thick and fast. It feels like the league has just ended and we’re in an Ulster semi-final, but it’s great to be there and Antrim are the current holders of the Ulster title for a reason.

“There’s no doubt it’ll be a serious game for a neutral and we hope our own supporters can get behind the team in two weeks’ time.”