Down hope to build on morale-boosting opener says Odhran Murdock
TRAINING is intense but the craic is good and Down hope to build on Wednesday night's positive start to their season when they face Donegal on Sunday, says Odhran Murdock.
Burren clubman Murdock was one of Down's goal-scorers in a morale-boosting 2-10 to 0-12 victory over Vinny Corey's new-look Monaghan side at Castleblayney.
Andrew Gilmore, Murdock's team-mate in the Ulster U20 Championship-winning Down side, scored the Mournemen's first goal in the 15th minute and Down led the reigning Dr McKenna Cup champions by three points at half-time.
Murdock gave Down control of the game two minutes after the break with a fine finish and Conor Laverty's side now look forward to Sunday's second round game with Paddy Carr's Donegal at Pairc Esler. Fanad native Carr, who previously had a spell as manager of Burren, took over the reins of the 2022 losing Ulster finalists from Declan Bonner at the end of last season and Sunday will be his first competitive outing with the Tir Chonaill side.
A second victory will earn Down a semi-final and help bridge the gap to their Division Three opener against Tipperary at Semple Stadium on Saturday, January 28.
“We'll take each game as it comes,” said Murdock.
“There's a big focus on Donegal now to try to get a result and put a good performance in but the League is the main focus for us.”
Like Down, Monaghan (apart from Ryan Wylie in defence and Conor McCarthy in attack) fielded an experimental squad on Wednesday night. The Mournemen gave a first start to Warrenpoint clubman Donagh McAleenan, welcomed back Niall Donnelly at centre half-back and Glenn clubman Shay Millar returned to the inter-county fray after almost four years' on the sidelines.
A McKenna Cup victory in the first week in January won't make their season, but it does give Down something to build on.
“It's definitely good to start the year off with a win,” said Murdock.
“The last few weeks' leading up to this game have been very tough in training so it's good to get the win and hopefully we can build on it now. The training has been going well – it's tough but it has been good craic and we're building plenty of momentum and hopefully we can carry that into the League.”
New manager Laverty has worked his squad hard in pre-season and Down looked full of running on Wednesday night. Murdock says the Mournemen are united in their focus to make progress throughout this year.
“It's very intense, training is very intense,” said Murdock.
“I suppose there's an emphasis that last year wasn't good enough and we have to improve on that so, any way we can, we're going to try and gain an edge and hopefully improve this year.
“We've been training hard and the League is three weeks' away so if we can get another wee push hopefully we'll be in better stead for the League.”
Murdock, who has conjured up some important scores for Burren already in his fledgling career, said Down manager Laverty had told his players not to over-complicate their attacks. When his goal chance arrived early in the second half on Wednesday night, he pulled the trigger without any hesitation.
“We said (at half-time) that we were maybe over-playing the ball,” midfielder Murdock explained.
“There might have been a few nerves there because it was our first competitive game back so Lav had said we were over-playing it at times and I took the shot as soon as I could.”