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Deegan has appetite to dine out at the top table

By Declan Bogue

Published 26/08/2016

Priorities: Conor Deegan would prefer Downpatrick to get promoted than go on a Championship run
Priorities: Conor Deegan would prefer Downpatrick to get promoted than go on a Championship run

Conor Deegan has insisted he would prefer promotion to Division One of the Down leagues with his side Russell Gaelic Union Downpatrick than further progress in the Championship, ahead of tonight's quarter-final against Bryansford (Pairc Esler, 8.30pm).

The two-time All-Ireland winner leads Downpatrick into a rare senior Championship quarter-final, almost completely dismissing their chances of upsetting the established top-flight club, especially without their main man Peter Turley who injured his medial ligament in a previous Championship game against Longstone.

"The dogs in the street would tell you that we have no chance against Bryansford," Deegan insisted.

"I am not just saying that for the sake of playing mind games here. We shouldn't have any chance against Bryansford. But it's a two-horse race."

Chief among Deegan's concerns is the lack of experience within his young squad. While Gerard Collins was a regular this season in Eamonn Burns' Down team, the rest are a somewhat callow group.

"For us, it's been a long time since we have been there," noted Deegan.

"I don't believe that anybody taking the field has played in a quarter-final of the Championship. That is very hard to fathom when you consider that when I was playing we were very competitive at that end, we were there for quite a few years."

Sitting second in Division Two - the only side from their league remaining in the Championship - RGU lost a top-of-the-table league clash last weekend to Marty Clarke's An Riocht.

However, getting into the top-flight is the priority for this season says Deegan, who won three Down Championships in four seasons as a player with The Hoops.

He commented: "The best way to improve is to play at a higher level. The Championship would be lovely if you got a run at it, but that is all it would be, just a run at it.

"What (Division One) gives you is that little bit of nuance. You have to be that little bit sharper, or go for the game when you really have to win one.

"There is no doubt you have to play at a higher level, consistently, and bring kids into that atmosphere. Better training regimes, a better understanding of what it is to train at that right level. All those positive things that come from that.

"That is certainly what we need to be doing as a club."

He feels that the current dip in expectations in Down can be addressed by developing the large urban areas that are currently struggling.

"Ultimately, the problem for Down is that you go to the big centres of population and look at them," Deegan said.

"Downpatrick are in Division Two. Newry - you have Shamrocks in Division Three, and Mitchells in Division Four. You are talking about the areas that you really need to put the time and effort into getting success, because that's where the numbers are.

"Bryansford, Castlewellan, fair enough, they are east Down. Loughinisland, they are in Division Two at the moment like ourselves.

"When you start adding all of those numbers up, you are looking at bigger areas where we are not getting enough bodies out of it - especially a county this small."

Belfast Telegraph

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