Down relegation rivals Offaly go down fighting in Galway
OFFALY scored 3-10 in a losing cause against Galway on Sunday but a similar tally from the Faithful County in Newry will cause Down huge problems in what amounts to a relegation play-off on Saturday evening.
The four-point loss at Pearse Stadium means Offaly are now bottom of the table on scoring difference in a three-way tie at the foot of Division Two alongside Down and Cork. All three have a point apiece and Meath (who travel to Cork on Sunday) are just a point better off.
Defeat won't mean relegation is certain but, with only two games left, it will leave Down with the proverbial mountain to climb.
“There is pressure every time you take the field,” said James McCartan.
“No one in our group wants to play in Division Three next year and we know if you go down there it is going to be a massive struggle to get out of it.
“There is pressure every day you go out, there is pressure to perform, there is pressure to win games and we are feeling it and hopefully we can embrace it.
“It is a challenge that we hope we can overcome and put in a decent performance.”
A little over three months into his second spell as manager, McCartan will be well aware that there is no quick-fix for Down. The minimum he will expect is a competitive performance from his side and he does have forwards capable of getting at an Offaly defence that has conceded 6-53 in four games this season. But Down's issue has been winning enough ball to get the best out of their attacking threat. So far this season scores have been at a premium – there were only three scorers in red and black against Derry, Galway and Meath and four against Roscommon.
“Probably from the amount of ball we had four scorers per game might not be a bad return,” said McCartan.
“We need to get more possessions and try to get more opportunities as well. It might seem strange but scoring what we have from the opportunities that we have had, that mightn't be a bad return. “We just need to create more, we are just not creating enough.”
Injuries haven't helped. Barry O'Hagan didn't feature against Roscommon and Andrew Gilmore and Pat Havern – who carried the fight to Meath and the Rossies – both had to step out of training on Saturday. Corey Quinn has made two substitute appearances and, after a long campaign with Kilcoo, Jerome Johnson has yet to train with the squad.
Defensively, Down have coughed up 5-46 this year and 1-18 of those came last time out against Roscommon in a result and performance McCartan described as “a backward step”.
“Against Roscommon I thought we were hit on the break several times probably because guys had left their positions and followed the men,” he said.
“We need a bit more structure to our defence on Saturday night so we don't leave ourselves wide-open.”
On paper, McCartan and his assistant-manager Aidan O'Rourke have a decent squad to work with but injuries and unavailability has hampered their progress. Even the introduction of five players from All-Ireland club champions Kilcoo hasn't had the impact Mourne fans would have hoped for.
“To be honest it has been strange because a lot of them are coming back with knocks and injuries after a long club season that need looked after,” said the Down manager.
“The amount of time that some of them have spent on the training field has been minimal. They are in the group but as regards taking part, there hasn't been much evidence of it so far.”
However, McCartan remains defiantly optimistic that his players will drag themselves out of trouble.
“We've had a good week's training there with the bodies that are fit,” he said.
“The manpower is low on the ground but that's not an excuse, we'll have 15 starters and a few more subs next Saturday evening and we'll be going out to win.”