Belfast Telegraph

It could be a Long day in Mournes for Down's Longford clash

By Declan Bogue

When Monaghan went for their pre-Championship training break, they had five nights in Portugal, sharing the sun loungers with the Worcester Warriors rugby team.

Only, there wasn't the time for sun loungers. Monaghan were there on serious business. Some weeks ago, a delegation from the county including the great Eugene 'Nudie' Hughes and manager Malachy O'Rourke travelled to New York for a Golf and dinner fundraiser.

They are taking their football very seriously in Monaghan. Under O'Rourke for the last three seasons they have not failed to make it to Ulster final day. Under O'Rourke, they have beaten Donegal twice. If they don't make their fourth Ulster final in a row, it would be a surprise.

The truth is that for a lot of counties, they either don't have ambition among the board, stumble upon a good management, or cannot use their imagination.

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A few Sundays ago, that was perfectly illustrated with Monaghan's 19-point win over Down - who face Longford in the qualifiers - a county that look all over the shop.

The sense of fragmentation in their panel is illustrated by players that were not named on the matchday squad walking off into the sunset.

Good players ­­- All-Stars like Marty Clarke - have not even been contacted with a view to seeing what they could offer. Down supporters also had to endure the charade of one of the most prolific scorers in club football - Bredagh's Alan Davidson - accepting an invitation to train with Antrim before Down put a belated block on him declaring for the Saffrons. To everyone outside Down, they are wondering how it could have got to this point.

Call it lack of ambition or ability, but Down football has been victim of some comical administration and leadership. Certain individuals are honourable and doing their best, while others are either captive to their own ego, or not equipped to act in the best interests of Down GAA.

The frightening thing for them is that it can get a lot worse for them, as the Longford bus swings into the Marshes this Saturday. It is a classic qualifier of its genre; you get absolutely no credit for winning a game like that at home but there will be hell to pay if you lose.

Longford have a dangerously compulsive appetite for slaying big beasts in the back door. Consider this; they have ended the managerial careers of Pete McGrath. A two-time All-Ireland winner with his native county - they beat Down in 2002 by five points.

John O'Mahony was another who led Galway to two All-Ireland titles. His quest to lead Mayo to similar riches was brutally brought to an end in 2010.

There's more. From Derry, they accounted for John Brennan in 2012 by three points. In Brian McIver's first year in charge of Derry, they travelled to Celtic Park and left that sunny evening in a welter of deserved bear-hugs and back-slaps. They also spoiled Paddy Crozier's first year in charge in 2006.

They brought the curtain down on Colm Coyle's two-year spell with Monaghan in 2004, running in 4-15 in the process.

At 2pm when Barry Cassidy throws the ball in, Down will be hunted down. Survive it, and they get no credit.

Whether or not Down win this game, it makes little difference to the complexion of their season. Longford are destined to be among the most unfashionable of counties and nobody picks up brownie points for beating them.

Who would be a manager on a day like that?

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