Clouds lift as Down focus on brighter future
Suddenly a ray of sunlight has finally filtered through the gloom which has enveloped Down football for rather too long now.
A laboured victory over a struggling Meath side is hardly an excuse to set champagne corks popping but when you are on your knees, any reason for rising from them has to be embraced. When they surrendered meekly to Clare a fortnight ago, this was Down's 14th consecutive defeat in league and championship fare since the Spring of 2015, an intolerable famine in this proud football county.
Now the possibility that this welcome bonus gained at the expense of the Royal County might just be a portent of better things to come is enough to brighten the spirits of beleaguered manager Eamonn Burns.
"I was very pleased with the effort that the players put in," observes Burns, "We built up a cushion by half-time, and we maybe made it a bit difficult for ourselves after the break, but we came out on the right side."
"The challenge for us now is to build on this and try and get ourselves up the table. There are good players in Down, and we saw some evidence of this again, but we have big tests ahead."
The inhibitions that have tended to suffocate Down's strategy in recent outings were discarded as the side breezed into a 1-8 to 0-6 half-time lead, Joe Murphy's second-minute goal and three points from Darragh O'Hanlon coupled with a brace from Barry O'Hagan cemented their dominance.
If Meath carried a bigger punch after the break, it was chiefly through the efforts of Graham Reilly to give an inspirational lead, and Donal Lenihan's clinical marksmanship.
Meath's traditional grit sparked their fiery final quarter offering but Kevin McKernan, Jerome Johnston, Conaill McGovern and O'Hanlon pirated crucial scores that maintained daylight between the sides.
Caolan Mooney of Down provided the man of the match, his feverish work-rate and ability to merge subtlety and power underpinning a huge contribution to the Mourne cause.
It was Mooney who perhaps put Down's performance into sharp perspective when he said: "We used the defeats to Fermanagh and Clare to drive us on. But we now have to replicate the positives we showed when we meet Derry next week-end."
Given the events of the week-end, that should be a contest to savour.
Down: D O'Hanlon (0-3, 2f), C McGovern (0-1), A Carr (0-2, 1f); K McKernan (0-2), C Maginn (0-1), J Murphy (1-0), B O'Hagan (0-2), R Johnston (0-1). Subs: J Johnston (0-1) for B O'Hagan (50)
Meath: D Keogan (0-1), J Toher (0-2), G Reilly (0-2), D Lenihan (0-8, 7f). Subs: B McMahon 0-1 for O'Sullivan (half-time).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).