Mayo test for starters suits Down fine says Kevin McKernan
DIVISION Two newcomers Down will be allowed no time to find their feet in the dog-eat-dog second tier as they kick off their campaign against last year’s All-Ireland finalists Mayo in the northern section opener in Castlebar.
James Horan’s men were relegated from Division One last season but went on to capture the Connacht Championship and pushed Dublin hard for three-quarters of the subsequent Sam Maguire decider.
So making the trip west on the weekend of May 15/16 amounts to a baptism of fire for Down but vastly-experienced centre half-back Kevin McKernan says the Mournemen have the talent and determination to survive.
“We have a very young panel that is gaining experience every year under Paddy,” he said.
“The likes of Peter Fegan, Paddy Murdock, Ryan McAvoy, Ceilum Doherty, Pierce Lavery and the Guinness’s (Daniel and James) are all a year wiser and hopefully Division Two will be a place those boys can put their name down as starting players for the county.
“The big thing for this team is that we take the next step to try to be as competitive as we can in Division Two. We’ll not be going in with any unrealistic targets but we feel we are good enough to be there and we deserve to be there.
“I feel this team is ready to take that step. We played Mayo in a Qualifier two years’ ago (Mayo won 1-16 to 1-11 in Newry) and we didn’t feel in any way overawed by that. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 we were playing Mayo in the League and that team just revelled in going to places like that.
“They’re tough places to go but you’d rather go there than some of the dogfights we’ve had in Division Three. It’s fantastic to be able to pit ourselves against a team that has ambitions to win an All-Ireland every year.
“Mayo will be a great start for us and then Westmeath and Meath… They’ve been playing Dublin regularly, they’ve spent time in Division One and it’s great for us to be able to put ourselves there and hopefully it’ll be positive for us in what we take from those games and what we learn from
them. Hopefully we’ll get results that leave us in a good position in Division Two.”
McKernan admits he had a few aches and pains when he returned to club training last week but, at 33, the Burren clubman expected that and he can expect a few more tomorrow morning after training with Down resumes this evening.
“My body isn’t getting any younger but I trained hard enough there for the past three or four weeks knowing that we were going back,” he said.
“I have a bit of soreness but it’ll take a week or so for everybody to adjust. It has been a tough few months from the end of the season last year (Down finished on November 15).
“You try to stay fit but nothing can replicate drills and short-sharp work and you can do all the long distance runs and straight line runs but when you put in a bit of twisting and turning and ball work it’s totally different. But it’s exciting that we are back and we have a goal to aim for in terms of dates for the League and everyone can put up with a few aches and pains because we’re glad to be back on the pitch.”