Football

Down trying to keep promotion hopes alive at home to struggling Longford

The Down team panel ahead of their defeat against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni.
The Down team panel ahead of their defeat against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni. The Down team panel ahead of their defeat against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni.

Allianz Football League Division Three, round six: Diown v Longford (Pairc Esler, 7pm Saturday)

Down's fate is no longer in their own hands but while there is still hope the Mournemen won't give up on their chance of promotion.

Victory over bottom of the Division Three positioned Longford on Saturday night is a necessity and they need other results to go their way too.

The Mournemen will be hoping that table-toppers Cavan can continue their unbeaten run and defeat Fermanagh. Should that happen and Down finish off Longford in Newry then Conor Laverty's men will go into the last round of the League with a chance of winning promotion.

It is a slim chance at best because Down would need to beat Offaly in Tullamore on Sunday, March 26 and rely on Westmeath beating Fermanagh on the same day.

Considering Down didn't win a single game last year in Division Two or the Tailteann Cup, this season has been a much more productive year.

Manager Conor Laverty and his team of Marty Clarke and Deaglan Morgan have brought many of their U20 Ulster Championship winning team through to senior ranks. Mickey Donnelly's appointment to the management team has gone done well with the players.

Kilcoo's Ryan McEvoy and Burren's Odhran Murdock have become instant leaders in the team, despite being the youngest players on the pitch. Murdock's club-mate Ryan Magill had made the corner-back position his own. Andrew Gilmore is another graduate from the U20 team that has excited the Division Three campaign. Anthony Morgan, Eamon Brown and Clonduff midfielder have got important inter-county minutes into their legs too as Down build for the future.

Saval's Pat Havern has been the leading light for this attack. His determination, physical power and bravery is what his team need in Division Three. His shooting has improved too and the Saval man continues to be key. He had to step up, given the injury to Barry O'Hagan.

Eugene Branigan's inclusion in the squad is a magnificent coup for Down. It looked unlikely he would wear the red and black following comments made when he picked up the Club Player of Year award last May.

However, his performances in recent seasons with title winning Kilcoo has warranted an inter-county call-up and it is unlikely he would have answered anyone other than Conor's call.

Athletic, fast, at times awkward, Brannigan is a pain for defenders to try and mark. His positional awareness and ability to pick off scores is among the best in the county and he can grow into a star for Down.

The Johnston brothers have bags of talent and experience and when they are on form they can be is hard to stop. Their club-mate Miceal Rooney has looked every inch an inter-county player in his first season and he continues to get better.

Former Armagh goalkeeper Paddy Morrison has been helping coach the goalkeepers and that is an area the Mourne men have yet to nail down.

Glenn's John O'Hare impressed in the Dr McKenna Cup and early in the League, but Kilcoo's Niall Kane returned to claim the number one spot with mixed performances. Mayobridge's Charlie Smyth is the more used to fly-keeper role, so it will be interesting to see who lines out between the posts on Saturday evening.

Down should be beating Longford, who have only one league point to their name. Daniel Mimnagh, Dessie Reynolds and David McGiveny are players the Mourne men will have ear-marked for keeping close tabs on.

Laverty will expect his team to get over the line, they left room for improvement from the loss to Cavan and the response should be seen on Saturday night.