Allianz National Football League Division Three: Down v Longford (today, Pairc Esler, 7pm)
By Andy Watters
PROMOTION is out of Down’s hands now but the Mournemen can stay in the hunt if they see off struggling Longford in Newry.
Fermanagh edged out Conor Laverty’s men in round three and Cavan were deserving winners of a good contest at Kingspan Breffni last time out. That victory has left Cavan looking certain to claim a promotion place but four points from their last two games could yet see Down pip Fermanagh (who host third-placed Westmeath today and finish against Cavan) to the other spot.
Down manager Laverty will be without injured quartet Shealan Johnston, Shane Annett, Conor Poland and Shay Miller for this evening’s clash against a Longford side that has taken a single point from their five games so far.
“Things are out of our hands,” said Down selector Mickey Donnelly.
“But it is very tight in the division and we outlined from the very start that a team on 10 points was going to get promoted. I would imagine that is still going to be the case so it is still very competitive and, nevermind what happens in the other games, we have to focus on ourselves.”
Longford’s sole League point this season came from a draw against bottom-of-the-table Tipperary in round four when substitute Oran Kenny rescued the midlanders with an injury-time equaliser. A few more from Kenny in Newry would be welcome because Longford, managed by former Dublin star and Burren manager Paddy Christie, have found scores hard to come by this season.
In their first two outings they registered single-figure totals but Christie’s men have improved in their last two games with 0-14 against Tipperary and a season’s best 1-16 against Offaly (managed by the sadly-departed Liam Kearns) last time out.
That total wasn’t enough to take the points against the Faithful County and defeat today will leave Longford destined for the drop to Division Four if Antrim manage to spring a surprise against Cavan at Corrigan Park.
On the flipside, defeat for Antrim will mean Christie’s men can claw their way out of the relegation zone if they cause an upset at Pairc Esler.
“Longford’s form has improved,” said Donnelly.
“Their three heavy defeats were against three of the better teams in the Division in Cavan, Fermanagh and Westmeath so they played their really difficult matches at the start and they will be looking at trying to get points out of tomorrow and their last game.
“Whether we get promoted or not, we want to finish as high up the table as we possibly can and Longford and Offaly are two games that we want to win. We want to finish the League with 10 points regardless of whether that gets us promotion or not.”
Down manager Laverty will be better placed now to see the work he has in front of him than he was when he took on the job. Laverty has had the buy-in he needed from across the county but the losses to Cavan and Fermanagh illustrated how he can’t turn a team that has been struggling into world-beaters with a click of his fingers.
Down hit seven goals in their first three games but have managed just two more in their last two outings.
Only Limerick and Antrim have conceded more than Longford have in the National League this season but Christie’s men will be set up to keep out the goals in Newry.
Patience will be key for Down but if and when they get their noses in front they should be able to keep them there and kick on to the victory that will keep them in the promotion hunt.