Allianz National Football League Division Three: Down 3-16 Limerick 0-9
From Brendan Crossan at Pairc Esler
AFTER a few opening minutes of turbulence, the Down footballers steadied themselves and breezed to one of the handiest NFL wins they’re ever likely to get on Saturday night.
Once Odhran Murdock slotted home his first of two penalties in the 10th minute, Limerick’s brittle resistance crumbled.
Faced with an opponent that’s not remotely near your level, what do you do? You put as much on the scoreboard as you can and show no mercy to your hapless visitors.
That’s exactly what the Down footballers did. They played with a razor sharpness all over the field and an impressive attacking intent that an inexperienced Limerick couldn’t compete with.
Right to the very last play, Down boss Conor Laverty – head of the brains trust in an impressive Down dug-out – barked out instructions to his players and there was no let up for Limerick who were out of this contest long before half-time.
It will be a major surprise if Limerick don’t tumble to a second consecutive relegation this season having not won a National League game since March 27, 2022 (a five-point home win over Fermanagh) - a time when they were on the crest of a wave and looking forward to playing Division Two football.
Saturday night’s drubbing must have been a shattering experience for Limerick boss Jimmy Lee who deserves immense credit for knowing some hidings are coming down the tracks while still trying to blood so many new players.
“We’re short an awful lot - 17 players from last year’s panel aren’t there and you can add six injuries into that, but these lads are mad to play,” said the softly spoken Lee.
“There is talent in them; we’ve a lot of young lads there. You can’t throw them in at the deep end and ask them to swim. You’ve to give them time.
“It’s a journey and one we’ll go on. Down are probably a Division Two team while we’d be hoping we can stay in Division Three... Conceding some of the scores we’re conceding, we just need to do a little bit better.”
And yet, the Shannonsiders appeared to catch the Mournemen cold in the opening minutes of Saturday night’s encounter at Pairc Esler.
The visitors hit the first three points of the night – Robbie Childs, Peter Nash and Cillian Fahy – and should have been 1-3 to no score in front after seven minutes, only for Iain Corbett pulling his effort on goal wide of John O’Hare’s right-hand post.
After that, it was all one-way traffic. Between the 10th and 24 minutes, Down rippled Limerick’s net three times leaving them completely punch-drunk.
Murdock confidently struck home two identical penalties – high to the keeper’s right – and in between those two majors, the hugely impressive Daniel Guinness blasted home the other.
Limerick were chasing shadows all night and didn’t know how to go about nullifying Down’s key men.
Murdock’s wondrous football ability is the worst-kept secret in Ulster these days. It’s hard to tell which is his stronger kicking foot as he’s so comfortable on either side.
He posted a brilliant 2-3. When Liam Kerr is in full flight there aren’t many better sights either.
He’s always had blistering pace, but his decision-making has markedly improved too.
Shealan Johnston and Rory Mason also posted strong performances and Caolan Mooney made a return to Down colours on Saturday night after a serious knee injury had sidelined him for the guts of a year, while he also intimated his inter-county career was over after a disastrous 2022 season for the county.
For huge swathes of this painfully one-sided tie, all of Down’s outfield players were camped in Limerick’s half of the field. It resembled a defence versus attack training exercise with Down mining scores at will.
Leading 3-8 to 0-5 at the break, the home side kept turning the screw with Pat Havern landing five frees in the second half.
Liam Kerr’s 50th minute point was the pick of the bunch after a wonderful kick pass from Daniel Guinness that allowed Pierce Laverty to feed the fleet-footed Burren attacker to finish.
It’s not easy to maintain the intensity that Down played with for the entire 70-plus minutes especially when Limerick posed no threat to them – but they did, which was arguably the most impressive aspect of their display.
“When you strip it all back, we’re in exactly the same position we were last year,” said Down selector Declan Morgan afterwards.
“But heading into the break it’s great to have four points. It’s going to be tough as it’s the section coming up where we didn’t get our job of work done last year, so we need to go away now and really prepare for those games.”