Down need to bring shooting boots to see off determined Longford
Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final: Down v Longford (Saturday, Pairc Esler, 7pm, live on GAAGO)
DOWN could have been sitting with their feet up watching these preliminary exchanges if they’d taken their chances against Meath last Saturday. They didn’t, so they’re not but the extra game, against a Longford side that has won twice and lost eight times this season, mightn’t do them any harm (as long as they win it).
With home advantage and some decent form behind them, the Mournemen should have enough to do that but Longford will leave all they have on the pitch, says manager Paddy Christie.
The midlanders have had memorable moments against Down in the past and former Dublin star Christie says it’s “in their DNA” to be able to pull a surprise result out of the bag.
There haven’t been many positives this year but Christie says the attitude and resilience of his players has been top notch.
“They will go up there and give it a crack,” said the Ballymun clubman.
“Even though they’ve struggled this season and we’ve lost games, they come to training every week with a smile on their face and you wonder whether other counties would have the same resilience. I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve conducted themselves because it is tough going but they come back all the time looking for more.”
Longford made a positive start to 2023 by winning the O’Byrne Cup but a disappointing performance against Fermanagh in the League was a setback and by the time they had recovered from it they were in a relegation dogfight they didn’t win.
A five-point loss to Down in competitive duel in Newry consigned Longford to relegation and beating Antrim in their final outing was no more than a defiant parting shot. He rightly points out that the League meeting has little or no relevance to Saturday’s clash, but Christie concedes that Down are favourites for the rematch.
“They’re a good team and they’re probably disappointed they didn’t come top of their group and they’ll be hard to beat, particularly on their own home patch,” he said.
“But if you want to get to the final of the Tailteann Cup you’re playing teams like this all the way and you have to beat them.
“To really put ourselves on the map I feel we need to pull out a big performance and take the scalp of a big team and Down would be in that category. If we were to play a Waterford, or a Leitrim we’d have a stronger chance and, if we win, it might only be by a point but we are capable of doing it and it would give everyone a big boost if we could pull it off.
“We want a performance and this will put us back on the map if we can do it.”
Pat Havern led the way in Down’s win in March. The Saval clubman operated around midfield against Meath last Saturday but he could be pushed further forward on home soil.
The Meath defence kept Liam Kerr quiet at Parnell Park and forced Down into taking shots from distance which has not been the forte of a goal-hungry side.
Longford will pack the middle of their defence and try to cut out the goal threat and Down need a route one option to push Longford back. If Havern provides it they could win this comfortably but, on the other hand, Longford have won just once in the Tailteann Cup but their scoring returns have been decent - 1-16, 3-17 and 1-14 - so Down need to bring their shooting boots.
If they don’t, they could find themselves in trouble.