Midfield powerhouse Kalum King flashes a warning to his Down colleagues as they put the final touches to preparations for Sunday’s Ulster championship semi-final against reigning All-Ireland champions Donegal.
“While much was made of our quarter-final victory over Derry, the fact of the matter is that we cannot afford to concede the score that they got when we face Donegal. That’s the blunt truth,” declares the Bryansford clubman.
In overcoming the Oak Leaf side by 2-17 to 1-15, Down looked particularly vulnerable at the back in the first-half when Eoin Bradley in particular ran riot, thriving on bountiful possession and scoring virtually at will.
While Down tightened up considerably after the break and went on to score 2-5 in a dominant expression of their all-round skills, King is adamant that the Mourne attack will find life much more difficult at Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday.
“While we were delighted to take the win over Derry, we knew that we had plenty of work to do and we have certainly been putting in the hard yards on the training ground,” points out King.
Manager James McCartan’s decision to blood new players during the league — injuries and emigration forced his hand in this regard — certainly paid handsome dividends at Celtic Park where players like Ryan Boyle and Niall Madine in particular stood up to the mark.
Now King feels that the team as a unit have matured as a result of the experience they gained in the league, even though the end product was relegation to Division Two.
Down suffered a chastening experience, of course, at the hands of Donegal in last year’s Ulster final when they were beaten by 2-18 to 0-13, the outcome of the match never having been in doubt from an early stage.
“We were of course beaten by Donegal in the league earlier this year but in a lot of our games, notably those against Tyrone and Cork, we were not too far away,” recalls King. “The new players have settled in well and the team is more balanced now.”
As well as anchoring the midfield against Derry, King still found time to surge forward and pirate a score and also relieve pressure in defence when Derry strove to pull the game out of the fire in the closing minutes.
“James had told me not to venture too far up the field but when I saw the way opening up for me at one stage I couldn’t resist going for the score and thankfully it went over,” smiles King.
Along with Kevin McKernan he now forms one of the best midfield pairings in the country and it is worth bearing in mind that prior to beating Derry, Down had overcame Kildare in their final game of the league which they won by 3-13 to 1-12.
This means that in two games they have scored an impressive six goals — a statistic that not too many counties can currently match. But King insists that garnering scores against Donegal’s watertight defence in which Neil McGee, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn and Eamon McGee are key figures, will not be easy.
“We will have to take every chance and we certainly cannot afford to allow them to get anything like the score that Derry got against us,” raps King.