Tailteann Cup semi-final: Down 8-16 Laois 2-12
BACK on the big stage with a bang – but Down are determined to be battling it out with the big guns next year by shooting down Meath in the Tailteann Cup Final.
The Mournemen blew Laois away, but captain Pierce Laverty and coach Mickey Donnelly were quick to remind the media that the Royals had beaten them in their recent meeting at a Dublin venue.
That was Parnell Park, in the last group game.
Croke Park is different, but Down displayed the confidence and swagger associated with their great, All-Ireland-winning sides of the Sixties and Nineties to completely demolish the O'Moore men.
"Unbelievable," said skipper Pierce Laverty. "Something special," he added. And those comments were only about the trip down and the honour of captaincy.
Once the ball was thrown in it got even better than Down could have hoped for.
Liam Kerr netted inside the opening minute, the first of the Burren man's hat-trick of goals, with the dynamic Danny Magill grabbing two, and Pat Havern, Odhran Murdock, and Rory Mason all rattled the onion bag too.
Ahead by 4-2 to 0-1 at the end of the first quarter, Conor Laverty's team went on to lead by 18 points at half-time and comfortably saw out a 22-point triumph, despite something of a Laois revival in the second period.
"It was definitely a dream start to the game and we saw it out," acknowledged Laverty.
However, the Saul clubman urged caution: "But we've an even bigger game here in three weeks and you can't get ahead of yourselves. There's a lot of work to do, tweaking a few things, to put ourselves in a good position to win the game."
Tyrone man Donnelly emphasised the importance of getting to headquarters – and winning: "So few of our players had played in Croke Park before…The actual experience of getting on that grass is phenomenal and I think it will stand our boys in good stead.
"Outside of the Kilcoo boys we had only two or three of the senior group who had played in Croke Park before. To get that opportunity and to get a decent performance under our belt hopefully will do more for the group than we imagined.
"We're not making any secrets of it: we're one game away from playing in the Sam Maguire next year, and you want to be playing in it, not as the curtain-raiser."