Paddy Tally: The message should be loud and clear for Down footballers

Down manager Paddy Tally. Pic Philip Walsh
Down manager Paddy Tally. Pic Philip Walsh Down manager Paddy Tally. Pic Philip Walsh

TURN it up to 11. The message should be loud and clear for Down footballers – win your last two matches and secure promotion from Division Three.

Yet boss Paddy Tally wasn’t merely voicing standard managerial caution when he insisted “We’ll take nothing for granted” ahead of those matches against Leitrim and Louth.

There could conceivably still be a three-way tie at the top involving Cork, Down, and Longford, although that would involve the unlikely combination of the Rebels dropping points in their top-versus-bottom home game with Louth and away to Longford. The latter would also probably have to win in Derry.

It’s much more likely that Down will secure second spot if they beat Leitrim in Newry then win in Louth, avenging last year’s final round loss at Pairc Esler which cost them promotion on scoring difference.

Tally admits that aspect is on their minds, currently trailing both Cork and Longford in that regard despite Sunday’s eight-point win in Offaly:

“It is surely. We were the victims of it last year… [beating Offaly] has helped our scoring difference, but teams have to play each other, we don’t know how it will go, all we can do is look after ourselves.”

The desire to gain promotion is even greater this year, in order to avoid the risk of playing Tier Two football in the the newly-named Tailteann Cup.

Yet Tally adopts a ‘que sera, sera’ attitude, saying: “We’ve put that to the back of our minds, we’ve just been looking at our next game. Those things are a consequence of how you finish up in the league, we have to make sure we play well. All we’re doing is focussing on performance and improving.”

Form suggests Down should beat both Leitrim and Louth, the current occupants of the bottom two positions after the former beat the latter at the weekend.

Tally reckons that result will give Terry Hyland’s men a lift ahead of their trip to Newry though: “Leitrim will be fighting for their lives now, we know that, that’s them onto three points, and a win against us would boost them.

“We were in this position last year, we went into the last couple of games knowing that the outcome of the league was in our own hands. We can’t make that mistake again. All we can do now is look after ourselves, that’s been the focus, getting our own performances up.

“We know it’s going to be a battle in Newry. The Louth game, down the line, we can’t look at that at the moment, that’ll look after itself. The Leitrim game will [laughs] be a big game.

“I saw them playing against Offaly and for large parts they were very good. That game hinged on a sending-off – Leitrim had a man sent off and the game changed.”

Down will hope to have more options against the Ridge County after captain Darren O’Hagan (quad) and vice-captain Donal O’Hare (knee) missed the win in Tullamore.

Full-forward Connaire Harrison did return to action, off the bench, which pleased Tally: “It’s good for Connaire, he’s been working really hard to get his fitness back up, he had a bit of a break over the winter. He’s in good enough shape now and we’re delighted that he got back on the field because we’re going to need them all before the season’s out.”

Several fringe players have been cut from the squad, but Tally had no complaints about that: “We’ve had a big training panel, Down County Board has been very good, they’ve let me run a panel of over 40 players – but there does come a time when you have to work with a 35-man squad and we had to let some players go. Tough decisions have to be made but we feel the players we have at the minute are in a good position to push on.”

Those who remain have no county action this coming weekend, which Tally believes will be helpful: “The break won’t do them any harm. They’ve put a hard shift in, it’s been hard in terms of training, conditions, weather, matches – and all those games were ‘must-win’ games.

“We do look forward to playing matches as well but let’s get them recovered and maybe a few of those knocks will be cleared up by the next day.”

One player who will remain out, despite being around the panel, is Caolan Mooney, who suffered a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain in an incident late last year. “Caolan hasn’t been back to training yet,” said Tally, “he’s still in recovery phase after his unfortunate accident. We’ll keep working with him, he was there with the squad, but he really hasn’t done any training. It’s in the hands of the medical team”.