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Bring the red and black back... Marty Clarke wants stands full for Donegal Championship showdown

"We’re under no illusions that Donegal will be coming to take us down," says Marty Clarke
"We’re under no illusions that Donegal will be coming to take us down," says Marty Clarke "We’re under no illusions that Donegal will be coming to take us down," says Marty Clarke

HAVING had four weeks to put their spring turmoil behind them, Donegal start as “clear favourites” to win in Newry on Sunday says Down assistant-manager Marty Clarke.

The Tir Chonaill men travel to Pairc Esler hoping for a fresh start after a tumultuous few weeks that included the fall-out from Karl Lacey’s exit from the county academy, the resignation of manager Paddy Carr, relegation from Division One after five defeats and then the exit of stalwart Ryan McHugh.

Now under the management of Aidan O’Rourke (assistant-manager to James McCartan at Down last year) Clarke expects the Tir Chonaill men to have shed their National League skin when they hit the Newry turf on Sunday.

“We have enough on our own plate to worry about,” said Clarke.

“It’s never nice to hear of a GAA manager leaving in the middle of the year but two years ago a lot of these players came to Newry and put 2-25 on the board. They’ve been playing in Division One at a much higher level than all our players have for a number of seasons and they’re a proud county.

“They will have a response to people writing them off and questioning their mindset and things like that. There’s only one way to go when that happens – you grind your teeth and work hard – and they certainly won’t be coming to Newry fearful of Down and that’s understandable because they’ll be clear favourites.

“So we’re under no illusions that Donegal will be coming to take us down.”

Down have benefitted from enthusiastic support in Newry this season
Down have benefitted from enthusiastic support in Newry this season Down have benefitted from enthusiastic support in Newry this season

Two years ago – with McHugh registering four points and the now-retired Michael Murphy also among the scorers – Donegal swatted Down aside in Newry. Their 16-point win was a low point for Down and Clarke wants the stands packed with red and black for Sunday’s clash.

“The home crowds against Antrim and Westmeath had a significant part in getting us over the line,” he said.

“It was a long time since I’d seen Newry rocking like it was and then after the game getting the young fans onto the ground. After the Westmeath game some of the players didn’t back to the changing rooms for maybe 40 minutes.

“It might seem like a small thing but it’s an important part of where we want to go on the journey as a management team and as county. We want these players to understand that we have a responsibility to get the county going again and to spend time with the young supporters and put smiles on their faces and give them something to look up to.

“The home advantage against Donegal is significant and it’s an underrated thing I feel. Yes Donegal have played Newry this year in the McKenna Cup and they came down in 2021 and put 2-25 on us in the Ulster Championship so they know the ground but we’re going to know it better and that gives us a little bit of an advantage.”