DOWN’S vice-captain Donal O’Hare has praised the character of the Mournemen after breathing new life into their promotion prospects with a narrow win over Longford at the weekend.
Despite dominating large periods of their fourth game in Division Three, Down found themselves two points down with 12 minutes remaining.
But just as they did against Tipperary and Derry, Paddy Tally’s men dug deep to keep hopes of Tier One football alive in the county.
Paddy Tally’s men came from two down to draw with Tipperary in Clonmel and outscored Derry in the final stretch to claim the win.
While they left themselves too much to do down in Cork a fortnight ago, they produced a brilliant last 10 minutes against Longford that yielded a goal apiece for Cory Quinn and James Guinness to put themselves in second spot behind the unbeaten Rebels.
“It’s something that this team does – we go right to the line, and we get over the line,” said O’Hare.
“Unfortunately, Cork’s lead was too big and we couldn’t get it back. Longford went two points ahead in the second half and we drew back and got a goal and then we kicked on from there. There is great character in this team, a lot of young lads too. Liam Kerr, I thought, was exceptional and there were game-changers coming on which was superb.”
Both Peter Fegan and James Guinness made telling impressions from the Down bench on Saturday night with Queen’s student Fegan popping up from his defensive position with a crucial second-half point and Guinness bagging a fantastic 69th minute goal that ended Longford’s resistance.
With Offaly (a), Leitrim (h) and Louth (a) still to come, Down’s promotion hopes are in their own hands – but O’Hare is mindful of how last season’s promotion push crashed and burned on the last day against Louth.
“If we don’t beat these teams we probably don’t deserve to go up,” the Burren attacker added.
“That’s something we can probably learn from last year. We went into the Louth game thinking we just have to beat them and get to Croke Park and we ended up not getting the result we needed and there was only one point of a difference in the table [that denied Down promotion].
“So the likes of the older ones on the panel probably take something from that experience, and that it’s not won after two or three games, it’s not won halfway through.
“We’ve still three tough games. The way the fixtures have gone this year, we’ve four away games and three at home, so we really targeted our home games to get a wee bit of belief back in the county.”
Now in his ninth season with the Down seniors, O’Hare’s stream of scores have been steady – 0-13 (0-2 from play) in Division Three - but perhaps not as prolific as previous seasons.
But O’Hare was found deep in his own half at times against Longford fighting and winning crucial dirty ball.
“I suppose last year I was lucky in a couple of games. This is my ninth year on the panel and being made vice-captain this year you’re looking at a different role and you’re probably getting targeted. But that’s county football, you’re getting marked by better players, better teams and Division Three might be a bit more defensive than Division One and Division Two,” he said.
“That’s just the way the game has gone. Kerry and Mayo are dropping back. I suppose if I’m not scoring heavily or doing my work then Paddy will find somebody else instead and I could be sitting on the bench getting cold. But with the new blood coming in it just freshens it up and gives you a wee lift too.”
With Tier Two football looming over all the Division Three counties this year - unless they gain promotion or reach a provincial final - O’Hare doesn’t feel the GAA has successfully sold the new competition that comes into effect this summer.
“Teams probably won’t know until they start playing in it. It’s still up in the air. The fact that they’re calling it Tier Two is probably a bit disrespectful and they haven’t even got a name for it yet.
“But we’ll see where we’re at come the end of the League. If we don’t get promoted, we still have a chance of playing Tier One if we reach an Ulster final.”