GAA Football

Down's challenges run deep: Paddy Tally

Down manager Paddy Tally wants to see players commit for longer periods of their careers Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.

WITH Colm O’Rourke’s stinging criticism ringing in their ears from last Sunday’s morale-sapping defeat to Meath, Down boss Paddy Tally feels the lack of squad continuity over the past number of seasons is damaging the prospects of the Mournemen.

A deflated Tally has a job on his hands lifting the mood of his squad after they were crushed for the second time in eight days in Division Two North.

Last week, Mayo swept them aside with 13 points to spare and the yawning gap between themselves and Meath at The Athletic Grounds on Sunday felt like more than seven points.

Down know they are already in a relegation dog-fight regardless of how their final group game against Westmeath plays out next week.

The bottom two teams in Division Two North will face the bottom two in Division Two South which could be Cork, Laois or Kildare.

Given the rookie nature of the Down squad on Sunday – shorn of Jerome and Ryan Johnston and the injured Donal O’Hare – it was always a tough ask to overthrow a seasoned outfit like Meath.

Tally acknowledged that his team’s downfall was “all of our own making”, adding that it has been “virtually impossible” to prepare properly for the shortened League campaign.

But Sunday Game pundit Colm O’Rourke didn’t spare Down, describing their display against Meath as “dreadful” and “ultra-defensive”.

“Down haven’t moved with the times,” said O’Rourke.

“In fact, they seem to be caught in a complete straitjacket. On two occasions in the first half Meath had black cards and Down on one occasion, or maybe on more than one occasion, didn’t even push up and left two or three Meath defenders to get easy kick-outs.”

Tally, however, gave a more root-and-branch analysis of the challenges that lie ahead for Down football.

“If you look at the last couple of years the amount of players that have had their opportunities,” Tally said.

“There has been massive change in the Down team over the last two or three seasons and that’s what you have at county level.

“What you’d love in Down is for boys to commit themselves to being county players for, say, 10 years, whereas players stick at it for two years or four years and are gone.

“There’s just a high turnover and if you look at the top teams in the country that doesn’t happen. Players [in top counties] can nearly guarantee that they’ll be there from they’re 19 to 29, so I think this is something Down and the players need to think about.

The Tyrone man added: “You look at Bryan Menton there and players like that, they’ve been round for a while and they’ve competed against the Dublins of this world.

“This is Ryan McEvoy’s first year as a senior county player and playing in the middle of the field against him and Johnny Flynn is really only in his second or third year and they’re competing against players who have been around the block for a while, so it’s going to take time. It’s hard, but that’s what you have to do and learn and push on.”

And there are boys there now and you think that is their mentality because it’s the only way that they can develop and be a top team in the country.

“You’ve such a short season, you’ve only four matches and you’re trying to integrate a team and get ready for the Championship. It’s virtually impossible to be dead honest, but we have to keep working and see where it takes us."

Amid the black cards on Sunday, Down lost arguably their best defender Gerard McGovern to a straight red card and although there is no confirmation of the infraction, it’s almost certain he will miss next week’s Westmeath but be available again for their relegation play-off clash.

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GAA Football