GAA Football

Focus for Down is winning the next game says Mickey Donnelly

Former Tyrone and Derry underage manager Mickey Donnelly (left) is enjoying working with Down Picture: Philip Walsh
Andy Watters

THE focus for Down is always on winning the next game, said assistant-manager Mickey Donnelly after the Mournemen had continued their encouraging start to the season with victory over a fledgling Donegal side on Sunday.

The Down management are experienced enough to know that these are very early days but their wins over Donegal and Monaghan have been a welcome boost to morale in the county.

Conor Laverty’s side now look forward to a McKenna Cup semi-final this weekend against the winners of one of tomorrow night’s round three games.

“The boys are working as hard as they possibly can,” said Donnelly.

“We are all very aware of where we’re at. We’re in Division Three of the National League, we’re in a very tough division and people can be blasé and say ‘we’ll do this, or that, or the other’ but getting out of Division Three won’t be easy.

“You have teams that won provincial championships in the last few years in Cavan and Tipp, Westmeath won the Tailteann Cup last year and we have local derbies with Fermanagh and Antrim on top of that so it’s a minefield, it really is.”

Donnelly says the Down management want their players to become accustomed to winning in the red and black jersey. The McKenna Cup is about finding new players and bedding-in new tactics but, most importantly, it’s about out-scoring the opposition.

“The focus for us going into the McKenna Cup was winning games,” said Donnelly.

“I’m not saying we had targeted beating Monaghan and Donegal but the focus is always trying to win the next match and we had a massive focus leading into the Monaghan game. We really wanted to win that game because we had invested a good bit of time in the group and a lot of the lads had been putting their hands up.

“So we wanted to come out of Castleblayney with a win. Then what do you do? You focus on the next game, you want to win it and then it’s the next one… This group have got to get used to winning games and they haven’t been used to that in a Down jersey so it’s important that every time they put a Down jersey on they’re going out to win the game.

“You can’t be as flippant as to say: ‘This (the McKenna Cup) is an opportunity to run-out players’ because we’re not in a position to do that. We’re not a Tyrone, or an Armagh.”

Tyrone native Donnelly is a teacher at St Ronan’s College in Lurgan where his colleagues include Down forward Barry O’Hagan and Fermanagh’s Ciaran Corrigan. He says he is enjoying working with manager Laverty.

“I’ve no problem saying that Conor is brilliant to work with,” he said.

“He is infectious, he’s an exceptionally passionate man about his club and his county and we’re all learning.

“Every day is learning day – we’re learning from him and hopefully he’s learning wee bits and pieces from us too, so it’s great.”

Down scored 1-2 early in Sunday’s game against Donegal and that bright start meant they were able to withstand a Donegal fightback midway through the first half and still lead by five points at the break.

“We were worried about fatigue because we had travelled to Castleblayney on Wednesday night and for lads from Bredagh or Carryduff-direction it’s a right spin,” said Donnelly.

“We thought there might have been a bit of a kick-back because we trained fairly well on Friday night too so we were delighted to get that start and that’s two very good starts we’ve had now which is very encouraging.

“To go in at half-time five points up after being put to the pin of our collar was a really good response and we would prefer to reflect on them showing a bit of steel and a bit of resilience rather than fading away.”

GAA Football