Down captain Pierce Laverty proud and confident - but still wary about Meath

Down captain Pierce Laverty (right) challenges his Donegal counterpart Paddy McBrearty in this year's Dr McKenna Cup. Pic Philip Walsh
Down captain Pierce Laverty (right) challenges his Donegal counterpart Paddy McBrearty in this year's Dr McKenna Cup. Pic Philip Walsh Down captain Pierce Laverty (right) challenges his Donegal counterpart Paddy McBrearty in this year's Dr McKenna Cup. Pic Philip Walsh

IT might not quite have been Saul's Biblical journey, but Pierce Laverty still remembers the trip to Croke Park to cheer on Down in the 2010 All-Ireland Final.

Thirteen years on, the Saul clubman is set to lead the Mournemen out there for the second time inside three weeks, with two of the players from that team in charge, taking on Meath in the Tailteann Cup Final on July 15.

Manager Conor Laverty came off the bench that day when Down just fell short against Cork, with his assistant Marty Clarke the attacking star of those surprising All-Ireland Finalists.

"Growing up, you're looking at the likes of Marty [Clarke] and 'Lav' [Conor Laverty], the likes of them, playing. Back in 2010 I remember getting the bus from the club. You were looking at those boys and thinking you'd love to play for Down, love to play there."

His dream came true on Sunday, in the second Tailteann Cup semi-final, against Laois, and Laverty acknowledged: "To be there myself, to lead my county out, was something special."

Better still, Pierce Laverty oversaw Down destroying the O'Moore men at GAA HQ. Rested for the second half, the game was already won, with the Mournemen ahead by 18 points, 4-10 to 0-4, having conceded just a single score from play.

Down went on to increase their lead, and double their goal tally, running out astonishing 8-16 to 2-12 winners, to Laverty's delight:

"It's an unbelievable feeling. For such a young group and so many of the group, including myself, it was our first day out in Croke Park, so to get a win like that there on your first day in Croke Park is hard to beat…

"That's some going for your first day out. We've pace to burn in our team, the likes of Liam Kerr, big Odhran Murdock, Danny Magill, Ryan Johnston, their athleticism is unbelievable.

"I found that there was quite a lot of space out in Croker there and it suited our team down to the ground."

Laverty insisted that he wasn't surprised about how many goal chances Down created, explaining:

"With the pace we have, we can break and catch teams on the counter-attack and we did that… We knew Laois have more experience of Croke Park, we knew they like to kick the ball, and at times they did kick the ball they got joy out of it. We were trying to put pressure on the ball coming in and if we did that then we were in good shape to win the game."

Laverty enjoyed the enthusiasm around his home ahead of the semi-final, so taking on old rivals Meath in the middle of July will bring even more excitement:

"The build-up to the game all week was brilliant – to see the whole way up the road from the house flags out all over the place, the whole build-up was just unbelievable."

Yet the Down skipper was quick to point out that Meath won't be worried despite Down's dominant display, having won the recent group meeting in this competition:

"No, absolutely. They beat us that day in Parnell Park and they absolutely deserved to win that game. We'll put our work in this next three weeks and put ourselves in a good position to win the game."

That final preparation may focus more on defensive duties. Laverty will escape criticism, as he sat out that second half against Laois, but he knows that management will ask questions about the scores conceded after the break:

"Yeah, I suppose we probably wanted to be a bit more compact at the back in the second half and not leak as many scores. We scored eight goals and whatever but we still conceded 2-12. We want to be limiting that to no goals and probably below 10 points for the next game…

"Us as a group, and management, we try to set high standards. Obviously we were trying to concede as little as possible. Our standards are high, we're always aiming high."

Laverty did accept the difficulty in keeping up concentration when you have such a huge lead, but did not use that as an excuse: "I suppose it is [difficult], we did get that far ahead.

"Going back to high standard, I think our standards are that we need to see a game out – it goes right to the 80th minute in most games. If we can nail all the simple things, do them really well, that'll go a long way to winning the game."