GAA Football

Darren O'Hagan: Mayo hot favourites but on-form Down can cause problems

Down captain Darren O'Hagan. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Shaun Mahoney

DOWN captain Darren O'Hagan is hoping the Mourne County can make the trek to Castlebar a profitable one when they face Mayo in Saturday's Allianz National Football League Division Two opener.

It was only two seasons ago when Down ran the Westerners close in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers before succumbing to a 1-11 to 1-16 defeat and the Clonduff star says they can take confidence from that performance.

“Yeah, we had them in Newry, and it was probably their experience and their know-how of how to win the match that got them over the line in the end,” O'Hagan said.

“We created more chances than they did but the important thing is they scored from more of theirs than we did.

''So, it probably came from them having played in All-Ireland finals as well as being in Division One for this past 10 years.

“There are a lot of our boys who played that night that will feature this weekend.

''It is a tough start to the League, there is no doubt about it and Mayo is going in as hot favourites, but it is where we want to be.

''We want to be at the top of Division Two and hopefully get back into Division One in a couple of years if not this year.

“Hopefully, we can put in a good performance against Mayo and have something to take home.”

Down face Mayo in Castlebar on Saturday before facing Meath in Armagh and then travelling to Westmeath over successive weekends.

While not a fan of the new league format, Down skipper Darren O'Hagan isn't critical either and the opportunity to play any sport is not lost on him and the shortened training campaign of less than four weeks makes forward planning nigh impossible.

“We thought when we got promoted that we would be playing seven matches this year and you hear people say how are we in the same geographical group as Mayo, but we are getting on with it and we are just glad to have the opportunity to play football if I am being honest,” O'Hagan said.

“It has been a weird few months without any football, and I don't think you'll hear many footballers complain about who they will be facing this weekend, they'll just be glad to be back out on the pitch on game-day.

“It is not like your normal year when you have your seven games, and you might target certain matches, we have got to take game by game and I think that is the only way we can take this season and see how it goes.

Nobody knows how things will go at any camp.

''Some players could end up testing positive with Covid or anything so I would suggest most teams will be taking it week by week.”

It has been a long a difficult road for O'Hagan who missed Down's Championship campaign after going under the knife to repair torn cartilage in his knee as well as suffering a broken wrist.

The delayed season has given Down's natural leader a chance to see some action and he admitted that having rehab kept him busy during lockdown.

His aim is to avoid any serious injuries this year and O'Hagan isn't sure if he will see much action in Castlebar, although he is hopeful.

“I'm not back into full training and might be training one night and sitting out the next session, so I am giving my injuries as much time as possible to recover,” said the Clonduff clubman.

“I didn't expect to be back as soon or to play any league football this year. I don't know what the story is for the weekend, hopefully I will get a few minutes against Mayo, or maybe it will be a little early for me. I trained last night so I will see how the body reacts over the next couple of days.

“Our physio Michael Walshe has been very good, and Paddy [Tally] has been great too, he has let me train on my terms with whatever way the body is telling me that day.”

Caolan Mooney, Ryan McAleenan, Donal O'Hare, Kevin McKernan and Geordie Collins are experienced players, while Celium Doherty and Liam Kerr, have become vital stars and this could be the year we see Kilcoo's young Ryan McEvoy come to the fore.

The Down captain has been pleased with what he has seen and heard from his younger team-mates.

Down however will go West without Kilcoo's Johnston brothers, Jerome, Ryan and Sheelan as well as Dylan Ward, who have opted out of the senior team for the season ahead.

“Even the younger boys that have come on over the past year or two, Paddy has blooded them, and you can see they are more like experienced players,” said O'Hagan.

“They are not sitting back and being shy, they are being vocal and having their say and they have risen the standard of training which is good.

''You don't want new players coming in and having to listen to the same players do all the talking all of the time, but the young lads are stepping up and that seems to be the way of the county player nowadays.”

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