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Down... and already out but Burns must be given time

By Declan Bogue

Published 03/02/2016

Tough run: Down lost by 17 points to Donegal in the Division One opener and next face Ulster kings Monaghan
Tough run: Down lost by 17 points to Donegal in the Division One opener and next face Ulster kings Monaghan

Excuse us while we perform the knee-jerk of all knee-jerks, but it's not too early to say that Down's season - in both league and Championship - is a write-off.

The people at Paddy Power certainly agree. Once they got their Monday morning coffee out of the way, they installed Down as 1/25 on for relegation from Division One.

A starting point comes with the very public 17-point savaging by Donegal last Saturday night. But the deeper you examine their plight, the more reason for alarm.

Their next game is away to Ulster champions Monaghan at Clones. Considering they will be meeting again in the Ulster Championship, Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke will be keen to keep a group low on confidence held firmly under the waterline.

Down do have two more home games, but they happen to be against Kerry and Dublin. There might be one winnable match with Roscommon, but it is sandwiched between the two clashes with last year's All-Ireland finalists, and away from home.

To finish, they have a couple of nasty trips to Cork and then Mayo on the final day. Tough going.

They knew they were in for a difficult evening when they came up against 2014 All-Ireland finalists Donegal. What was a bit of a gather-up Down team met a side that are one of the most rehearsed and drilled squads in the history of the game. It showed.

Going by the always excellent Rob Carroll's statistical blog 'Don't Foul', a team can expect to have roughly 35 attacks in a game (that is crossing the opposition's 45-metre line). From that, they can muster somewhere between 25-30 shots from play.

Down managed seven shots from play on Saturday, scoring twice.

Their distaste for modern defensive systems (incidentally, it was James McCartan in the Ulster semi-final of 2013 that first showed what could be achieved when you 'mirrored' the Donegal style properly) manifested itself again. In defending in numbers, they knew the 'why' of the blanket defence. Three Donegal goals, two of which were palmed to the net by an unmarked Ryan McHugh, demonstrated they don't quite get the 'how' part.

In the past, some administrators in the county have crossed the line. One former county under-age coach was told that his defensive structure in taking on one of the fancied teams in their competition was not in keeping with 'The Down way'. Other coaches of development squads have heard the same things and felt instantly disillusioned.

In going over the woes of Saturday night, Mourne boss Eamonn Burns told reporters that his side wouldn't be dwelling on it.

"I thought they battled hard until maybe the last 10 minutes when the game was definitely beyond our reach," commented Burns.

"That's not the Down mentality. The Down mentality is to face the challenge and we will do that. We will do that all year. But we know it is going to be tough. That's the way it is going to be."

Given the despondency in the county, it's fair to publicly ask what the 'Down mentality' is.

This kind of thinking has infected Down GAA for some time now. The idea that they are old money, champions in a previous era and for that reason and that reason alone, the natural order of things will be restored.

It has never worked like that in sport. Success cannot be complacent.

What should concern the minds of Down fans is the reluctance of the top players in the county to play. Of the forwards that played in the 2010 All-Ireland final, Paul McComiskey does not appear interested and Conor Laverty has stepped away.

Benny Coulter, despite earlier soundings about a return, is not part of the panel. It would seem entirely fanciful that he will rejoin as the weeks go by. Marty Clarke is playing well enough for Queen's to earn a recall to county football, but we have to ask, why hasn't that happened?

Whether Down like it or not, there has been some price to pay for the Jim McCorry resignation, after winning promotion to the top flight. Even in recent times, Down players such as Caolan Mooney have said: "I would still openly say it was a disgrace, how he was treated."

What the Mournemen need now is to stick with Burns. Give him all the help he can and get some buy-in from their clubs.

He needs patience. As Down's glorious past recedes into the rear-view mirror, that's something they should have plenty of.

Belfast Telegraph

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