Football

Down captain Laverty hoping Mournemen can follow Derry blueprint

Down captain Pierce Laverty pictured at a press event in Croke Park ahead of Sunday's Tailteann Cup semi-final against Laois at Headquarters      Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Down captain Pierce Laverty pictured at a press event in Croke Park ahead of Sunday's Tailteann Cup semi-final against Laois at Headquarters Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile Down captain Pierce Laverty pictured at a press event in Croke Park ahead of Sunday's Tailteann Cup semi-final against Laois at Headquarters Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

It was only in 2020 that Down beat Derry in the National League to help secure promotion to Division Two.

That was a round two encounter in Newry and after previously drawing with Leitrim on the opening day, the pressure was already on new Derry manager Rory Gallagher.

The county's progress since then has been remarkable; 20 wins and just three losses from their subsequent 25 League games, promotion ultimately to Division One and back-to-back Ulster titles clinched.

Genuine All-Ireland contenders now, Derry are currently resting up for their quarter-final tie to roll around while Down, who didn't win a single game in 2022, will slug it out on Sunday with Laois for a Tailteann Cup final place.

The journey from there to here for both counties has been remarkable though Down's graph is tracking upwards again under Conor Laverty. So much so that team captain and namesake Pierce Laverty is talking about taking the template for success laid down by Derry and adopting it as their own.

"That's where we want to go," maintained Laverty. "I know it took Derry two years to get out of Division Two, they missed out on promotion last year narrowly but, yeah, that's our target.

"For you to challenge for an Ulster championship, and even a Sam Maguire, you need to be dining at the top table with the likes of Kerry, Dublin and Mayo.

"So there'll be a big push on next year to get promotion. But even in the short-term this game now, it's as big a game as this group has played.

"It is crucial for the experience of the team. But definitely, we look at Derry and that's where you want to get to. I think if you can win an Ulster championship you can definitely challenge for a Sam Maguire."

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A year ago, that sort of talk might have seemed fanciful but Down are favourites to lift the Tailteann Cup and to secure a golden pass to next year's Sam Maguire Cup competition.

The ambition of new manager Laverty, mixed with his pragmatic approach to preparation and close relationships with so many of the panellists, has made it all possible.

"I suppose the main thing I noticed was just the turnover of players," said Laverty of previous regimes. "I can't count how many different players have come and gone, just for different reasons.

"Boys going travelling or taking a job here or there, or just deciding they didn't want to play this year. You're looking at other counties, the likes of Derry, and you're seeing that it's the same group playing there that's come out of Division Four, Division Three.

"It's the same panel of players and that's key to development.

"With this Down panel at the moment, everyone really wants to be there. I think that's maybe what it's lacked in the past. It really, really feels like a privilege to play for Down at the minute."