Conor Francis: Down determined to improve finishing for Longford quarter-final play-off

Conor Francis remains upbeat about Down's Tailteann Cup prospects
Conor Francis remains upbeat about Down's Tailteann Cup prospects Conor Francis remains upbeat about Down's Tailteann Cup prospects

DOWN allowed victory to slip out of their hands with some poor finishing against Meath last Saturday but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed, says Bredagh clubman Conor Francis.

A blustery breeze at Parnell Park didn’t help as Down racked up 17 wides against the Royals in the final round of group stage games. Losing by two points means the Mournemen have to go through the preliminary quarter-final route and they take on Longford at Pairc Esler on Saturday evening (7pm).

Francis agreed that the end product needs to improve if Down are to advance to the last eight.

“It’s nothing major, nothing we can’t fix,” he said.

“On another day we definitely could have beaten Meath. We kicked ourselves out of it but our play up until that was brilliant.”

Longford have been something of a bogey team for Down in recent years but the Mournemen beat them by five points when the counties met in the League in March. Down’s shooting was excellent on that occasion when Conor Laverty’s side amassed 1-19 on home soil and something similar should do the trick for them on Saturday evening.

That loss in Newry sealed Longford’s relegation to Division Four. They beat Antrim in their final League game but it wasn’t enough to save them from the drop. Losing to Offaly (by a point) sent them into the Tailteann Cup and in group three there were losses to Limerick (away) and Carlow (neutral venue) but a home win against Wicklow ensured Longford’s progression to Saturday’s play-off.

Francis remains optimistic that if Down can get it right at both ends of the pitch they are a match for anyone in the Tailteann Cup.

“We’re here to win this competition, we’re not here to just take part,” he said.

“It’s nothing we can’t fix. On another day half of them would go over and we might win comfortably. Other than the finishing I think we did pretty well so it’s something we need to work on this week in training.

“Meath had strong runners coming through the middle but some of the turnovers we got and the tackling we had was brilliant – it was just the end product that let us down.

“We’ll regroup and get back at it and try and fix that and hopefully push on to the quarter-finals and have it right for then.”

Meanwhile, Colm O’Rourke says Meath and Down – combatants in the 1991 All-Ireland final – are like “two old heavyweights” trying to make their way back towards their lost status.

“I suppose we’re a bit like Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali,” said the Meath manager who includes 1991 Meath manager Sean Boylan as a selector.

“Our paths have crossed again when both of us have gone down a bit and I think Down are basically doing the same as we are doing.

“I was speaking to Conor Laverty at length before the game and we have both embarked on basically the same path of trying to build a new team. We’re both at similar junctures in that path.”

Like Laverty, O’Rourke has introduced a series of promising young players into his team this season. Ciaran Caldwell, who made his debut against Down, is the 13th player to get his first taste of Championship football this season.

“Most counties wouldn’t do that in five years,” said O’Rourke.

“We have introduced 13 new players to Championship football and it’ll give them a huge boost in terms of confidence and everything else. They’re a wonderful group of players – these lads are going to be good it’s just a bit of time and patience.

“They’re very committed and hard-working and their attitude is first class.”