GAA Football

Down can turn season around with victory over Offaly: John Clarke

Down fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of Roscommon in their last League outing a fortnight ago - placing extra emphasis on tomorrow's Division Two battle with Offaly. Picture by Philip Walsh

DOWN have the opportunity to “turn their year around” if they can beat Offaly in tomorrow’s potentially season-defining clash at Pairc Esler, according to former Down forward John Clarke.

The Mournemen have endured a difficult start to 2022 under new manager James McCartan, with just one point from a possible eight so far doing little for hopes of avoiding the drop to Division Three.

Early defeats to Division Two trailblazers Derry and Galway were not unexpected, but Down left Navan disappointed not to have taken maximum points against a struggling Meath side last month before being blown away by Roscommon on a disappointing night in Newry the following weekend.

Although they have three games left to save their skin, tomorrow’s date with promoted Offaly has long been identified as must-win – and Clarke fears that anything less will leave McCartan’s men swimming against the tide in their remaining games against Cork and Clare.

“I think James went in with his eyes open, he knew it was going to be a massive challenge, and the fact he came in so late didn’t help things either,” said Clarke, who played under McCartan in his first stint at the helm from 2009-2014.

“Among the Down public, expectations aren’t huge at the minute - nobody’s expecting miracles – but performances so far have been pretty poor. Even though they’re Division Two, people would probably rank them seventh or eighth in Ulster, and that’s probably not too far off.

“They’re just lacking a spark… it’s hard to put your finger on it. But things can turn this weekend with a win. James realises that and the players need to realise that.

“If Down win on Saturday night they can turn their year around, and if they don’t they’re definitely looking at Division Three. There’s so much at stake now.

“Different personnel have been unavailable for different reasons but whoever is playing on Saturday need to really show some fight - show Down football isn’t as bad as people think it is at the minute.”

Relegation would raise the very real prospect of competing in the Tailteann Cup, barring an unexpected Ulster final appearance. For Clarke, it is unthinkable that Down would drop out of the All-Ireland Championship – and he believes they can get back to winning ways tomorrow night.

“If you go down to Division Three, it’s no given that you’re going to get right back up.

“I played in plenty of Down games that played poor games in different places, and you just need to react and put that right.

“The Roscommon game was a particularly flat performance - they need to go all guns blazing on Saturday evening and really go for it. There’s three games left and they can start to move the right direction on Saturday.

“Anything other than a win and it’s going to be very difficult to stay up, and it could even have a knock-on effect on the next couple of years. I’m sure James will be driving that home this week - he’s a good man-manager and he’ll demand a performance.

“If the players can’t get themselves up for a game like this and react to the Roscommon defeat, there’s something badly wrong.

“We’ve seen many times before, all it takes is one win for things to turn, and hopefully that comes on Saturday.”

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GAA Football