Championship football for the rest of the year for Down says Mooney
IT'S Championship football all the way for Down, says Caolan Mooney, as the Mournemen embark on a series of do-or-die encounters with their penultimate Division Three fixture against Leitrim on Saturday.
To clinch promotion, Down have to win in Newry and then beat Louth in Drogheda before they quickly refocus for the start of the Ulster Championship against Fermanagh. Securing Division Two football for 2021 would be the ideal way for Paddy Tally's men to go into the Championship and Mooney – back in red and black for the first time since his skull was fractured in an assault last December – is confident that Down have the firepower to do just that.
“It's Championship football for the rest of the year because we can't afford to slip-up,” said the attacking wing-back from the St Bronagh's, Rostrevor club.
“People are talking about Ulster, but the next two games are Championship for Down. It's not even two games, the next game is the most important one we'll play this year. I know the boys are buzzing because it's great to have competitive football back at this level and everyone is just excited.”
Down trained last night ahead of their first competitive game since March 1. Prior to the Covid-19 enforced lockdown the Mournemen had put together back-to-back wins against Longford and Offaly. The win over the Faithful county in Tullamore was easily Down's most impressive performance of the season and, although the momentum of it has been lost, it left Tally's side second in the table needing a strong finish to join Cork in Division Two next season. But on Saturday they'll have to win without inspirational skipper Darren O'Hagan and experienced Glasdrumman forward Connaire Harrison.
“Go back to the game against Offaly and there was myself, Darren O'Hagan, Donal O'Hare and Connaire all out and the boys stepped up and gave a great performance so, if anything, this year has brought boys on and given them experience,” said Mooney.
“A lot of them were flying for their clubs and they are going to be coming in with confidence high and trusting their ability. If we hit the targets that we set, there's no reason why we won't be winning these games.”
Next year the Championship will be split into two tiers and five-time All-Ireland winners Down will certainly not want to play in a second tier Championship competition.
“It's vitally important we go up,” said Mooney.
“Division Three is a tenacious division and it has thrown a few headaches at us the last couple of years. We have a lot of young boys coming through and getting the experience of promotion will do them a lot of good. The experience of getting up to Division Two and coming up against some of the bigger teams in the country will bring us on.
“We just have to get the win on Saturday night and see where we go from there.”
If recent form is anything to go by, Ulster Championship opponents Fermanagh could swap places with Down in the National League this year. A number of the Erne county players have had to go into quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 and Mooney agree that the threat of the virus could yet disrupt the remainder of the inter-county season.
“It has been a weird year,” he said.
“We're trying to keep ourselves healthy to prevent it coming through into our squad but there are no guarantees that we will stop it. But I'm just happy to see the season back and I know it won't be the same with no fans but it's better than nothing.”