GAA Football

Good start to Division Three is vital for Down says skipper Darren O'Hagan

Darren O'Hagan, centre, celebrates at the final whistle after Down's win against Tipperary in last season's Qualifiers
Andy Watters

DOWN captain Darren O’Hagan will fight tooth-and-nail not to play in the second tier of the Championship next season but, if he has to, he’ll be going “full throttle” to win it.

That’s not really as surprise because the Clonduff defender plays most of his football full throttle and, as Paddy Tally’s men prepare for a Dr McKenna Cup campaign that begins with group games against Fermanagh and Antrim, he says there is a “great buzz” about the Down panel.

“We still have almost our whole squad from last year and Paddy has added a couple of fresh faces to it which has helped. New faces coming in always help because they drive everybody else on a wee bit.”

Ross Carr, Liam Kerr, Liam Middleton are among the new batch of recruits. All three have come in from last year’s impressive U20 team and will hope to force their way into the side for a Division Three campaign that begins with a trip to Clonmel where Down take on Tipperary. After that they come up against Derry and then Cork and, while even four points from those three games should leave Down well placed for promotion, O’Hagan warns that there is “always a dark horse” lurking in the third tier.

“People don’t understand how tough Division Three is,” he says.

“Last year most of our wins were by a point or two. You’re scraping through and there’s no hammering teams, there’s no coasting to victory. They are all very, very competitive games.”

In a series of nail-biters, probably the game that stands out from last season’s League was Down’s win in Carlow. The Mournemen emerged from a titanic struggle with a one-point win that left them in the box seat for promotion but defeat to Louth in their final fixture meant all their hard work previously went unrewarded. Ultimately Down lost out on scoring difference.

“We didn’t get promoted last year by one point on the scoring difference,” O’Hagan explained.

“If we had conceded one less point or scored an extra point, we’d be in Division Two next year. That’s the fine margins you’re talking about so, yes, it’s going to take that extra 10 per cent and it’s massive that we do get a good start.

“Getting a victory in our first game will be massive. If we don’t it’s backs-to-the-wall stuff straight away and then it’s a must to get wins after it. It’ll be very important to get a good start to this League.”

Of course promotion, and relegation, has increased importance this year in the crucial Division Two/Division Three sector. The new Championship format means that teams from the bottom two divisions will play in the second tier of the new competition unless they go on to make it to their provincial final.

“I’m a player who is not for it (the two tier structure),” said O’Hagan.

“I would rather have it the way it was – competing for the Ulster Championship and then competing for the Sam Maguire. But it is what it is and you have to just get on with it and it makes it more important to get out of Division Three.

“We’ll take it game by game and we have a tough start away to Tipperary – it’s a massive game.

“If we do end up in the second tier, at the end of the day you’re still representing Down, you’re still wearing the Down jersey and it’s a cup that you have to go and win because it is silverware and that’s something that Down has been very deprived of in the last 25 years.

“It’s ’94 since there was any silverware brought to Down so you wouldn’t turn your nose up at it, definitely not. If we end up in it, we’ll have to go full throttle at it and try to win it. If you do win it then you’re out of it for the following year which is something to look at as well.”


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GAA Football