Conor Laverty's 'wee bit of magic' can help Down to Tailteann Cup glory against Meath says selector Mickey Donnelly

Conoor Lavery has led Down to the Tailteann Cup final, where they will play Meath at Croke Park on Saturday, in his first season in charge of the Mournemen. Picture by Philip Walsh
Conoor Lavery has led Down to the Tailteann Cup final, where they will play Meath at Croke Park on Saturday, in his first season in charge of the Mournemen. Picture by Philip Walsh

Down selector Mickey Donnelly is banking on boss Conor Laverty’s “wee bit of magic” to help them claim the Tailteann Cup title.

Donnelly has taken underage county teams in Tyrone and Derry, and various club sides, and jumped at the chance to work with Laverty when he was appointed in Down for 2023.

The pair have been in contact for years and when Laverty “sold his vision to me” regarding Down, Donnelly quickly committed.

He described the last few months working alongside the “wonderful communicator” and “absolutely fantastic coach” as eye-opening and said Laverty possesses an x-factor that few others in the game have.

“There’s a wee bit of magic with him, there’s no point in saying anything different, he’s a very impressive man,” said Donnelly of the father-of-five. 

“It’s no secret that he’s very busy, he is a busy man. Jesus, he has his fingers in a lot of pies.

“He’s playing club football, he’s a successful farmer, he has a house full of cubs, he has a couple of coffee trucks on the road. So he’s a busy guy but his passion and his desire for football, I have never seen anything like it.

“You can call it game smarts, you can call it game IQ, whatever you want to call it, it’s just relentless. I don’t know where he gets the time but he gets it and his ability to even simplify the message is amazing.

“I’ve worked with good coaches and saw good coaches in operation over the years. But they’ve maybe complicated things, Conor makes it crystal clear for everybody and given the amount of people and the range of individuals that you’re working with in a county set-up, the message has to be clear.

“He’s a wonderful communicator and the simplicity of the messages that he gets across is probably the net result of that. I just think there’s a wee bit of magic with him. He’s a special wee person and that’s emphasised when you’re looking around and going, ‘how does this man sleep? Where does he get the time?’ Football is front and centre all the time.”

Donnelly reckons the fact Laverty, an All-Ireland club title winner early last year, is still playing for Kilcoo is a big plus.

“He’s able to say, ‘listen, that guy was marking me a couple of weeks ago and he is tight’ or ‘he won’t let you make that wee run in behind’ or ‘he will take you away up the field’,” said Donnelly. 

“That’s an insight you won’t get from anyone else. And listen, in another world he probably still could be playing with Down. If some of the rest of us were managing the team, he could probably still put a jersey on for you. I think he could. I’ve gone to see Kilcoo a couple of times this year and, listen, he’s nobody’s fool.”

Down fired 17 wides when they last played Meath, losing by two in their final Tailteann Cup group game at Parnell Park early last month. More recently, they secured their final place with an eight-goal mauling of Laois.

“We’d take somewhere in the middle on Saturday – if we could score four goals and shoot eight wides, that would be all right,” said Donnelly with a smile.

“Credit to Meath that day, they were really well set up. They defended in numbers and made it really, really difficult for us to penetrate. Parnell Park plays quite narrow as well. Down also lost an U20 semi-final at Parnell Park. There’s maybe a correlation there in terms of the way we want to play football and maybe Parnell Park doesn’t make it that easy.”