Danny Hughes: Conor Laverty's shrewdness should get Down over the Tailteann line against Meath

Danny Hughes is full of praise for Down boss Conor Laverty Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Danny Hughes is full of praise for Down boss Conor Laverty Picture: Seamus Loughran.

SEVEN-hundred sponsors, fans and personalities gathered last Friday morning to support the Down team who are preparing to take on Meath in the Tailteann Cup final this weekend. 

In respect of all Down patrons, I had the feeling they understand that this is not where we want to be as a county – in a secondary competition.

Conor Laverty stated as much, noting that he would rather be preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final and would be quite happy to switch places with Monaghan, who take on Dublin on Saturday evening post the Tailteann Cup final.

The Tailteann Cup competition is a stepping stone.

As Westmeath proved, it is an opportunity for Meath and Down to build something resembling progress, even if it is a secondary competition. 

Nobody can say that Dessie Dolan hasn’t built on last year’s inaugural Tailteann Cup victory.  Westmeath were seriously unlucky not to progress to at least a preliminary quarter-final. 

Regarding this weekend, yes, there is the nostalgia of the 1991 All-Ireland final and all that. However, for both teams and counties to re-create a fixture of this magnitude, the bottom line is, serious progress needs to happen.

Not just at senior level either. This needs to happen at foundational level in both Meath and Down. Easier said then done. 

For now though, the Down and Meath players will not be thinking of the bigger picture. Neither, to a degree, will both sets or management.  It’s about the here and now – 3pm Saturday in Croke Park. 

In whatever form, a final – whether it be a McKenna Cup, Anglo-Celt or whatever – provides a player with the opportunity to win a trophy.

I always contend it worked against us (Down) in 2010 and in understanding and knowing how to win a final – ugly if need be. 

Cork had been beaten in two previous finals prior to 2010, thus understood how NOT to lose one perhaps. 

So for Down, beating Meath this weekend can be a significant moment for the squad, a huge learning experience if they want it to be. 

Down will need to build on the Laois win – it wasn’t a test, it probably wasn’t a true reflection of the opposition either to be fair.

It was one of those days, not often experienced – Down were brilliant and Laois God-awful. 

Down have beaten favourites Cavan en route to this weekend’s finale. 

It is probably this game Meath should be looking to forensically review in order to come up with a strategy to defeat Down. 

Conor Laverty has used a significant number of players, releasing some to facilitate them in playing for their clubs and allowing others to go away and find some form. 

There appears to be a very fluid policy of playing certain players to fit the system rather than vice-versa. 

This is a smart way of keeping everyone in the squad on their toes. 

They all have a chance of playing – ironically this is the very purpose and reason for carrying a squad of players. 

Down will utilise their pace across all positions of the field. 

The players do not operate in any fixed or set position so Meath players will need to be prepared to be mobile. 

There was no doubting Colm O’Rourke’s credentials as a player, nor as a pundit, writer and broadcaster. 

I have known nothing else of the man outside of this and having met him on one or two occasions, he is a very good-natured and intelligent man. 

The Meath diaspora will have been aghast at the prospect of playing second-tier football – but the reality is that Meath have not been contenders for a very long time. 

In this new world and Championship structure, nostalgia forms no part of the considerations. 

There is no doubt that history forms a part of Colm O’Rourke’s tactical approach – there is a clear preference to kick the ball, particularly to their dangerous inside forward line. 

Down will welcome this approach if O’Rourke decides to persist with this tactic. 

Conor Laverty will live off Meath’s mistakes and Down have the players capable of punishing the Royals. 

Goals are Down’s oxygen – expect plenty of chances to be taken by Laverty’s men. 

Setting aside my bias, I just think Down have a more modern approach, a practical one, a tactical cuteness in keeping with how the game is now generally played.

It may not be pretty, but it is effective.  Finals are for winning – good, bad or ugly. 

WHEN I think of Monaghan – I think ‘character’.  This is a team and a type of player that the Farney appear to breed rather than create. 

As they approach an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in Croke Park, how could Monaghan players and fans not dream of what can be. 

Logic would say that this is a game which is the Dubs’ to lose. 

Monaghan will go into the match as an underdog with more than a fighting chance of winning through to a final. 

Vinny Corey has done an extraordinary job – in fact they are probably the team of the year. 

Dublin were very good in the second half against Mayo – with glimpses of their ‘old’ selves. They were also able to spring Ciaran Kilkenny and Dean Rock from the bench that day. 

I believe that Kilkenny makes Dublin tick and has done for over 10 years now – should he continue to be left on the bench from the start, the longer the game goes on, the better Monaghan’s chances. 

Conor McManus (below) is now playing a role more in keeping with that of the elder statesman.

He has enough able players around him in McCarthy and Jack McCarron to shoulder the responsibilities. 

McManus’ performances in the last few years have appeared to me as if he feels he has to take on the entire opposition.

Snapping at half-chances and shots from crazy angles were in part forced due to a lack of trust in those around him. 

Corey has subtly managed to ease the transition of Monaghan as a one-man team to a team that is the sum of all its parts.

You feel this compromise is clever management on behalf of Vinny, in tandem with McManus’ own intelligence in where he is now

age-wise and the role he has in the team as an impact substitute. 

Monaghan have a fighting chance, but that’s all you need in any contest. 

While Dublin thrill, and in a way it is good to see that panache return as a spectacle, wouldn’t it be fantastic to see Monaghan secure a place in the final. 

The punters might say it is a Dublin v Kerry final, but who would bet against Monaghan and Derry. 

Ulster says yes to that!