Burns feels heat as Down aim to restore pride against Cavan
The route to championship redemption is proving a difficult path to pursue just now. If in any doubt, just ask Antrim or Derry.
Today it’s the turn of Down to consult their tactical map in the hope that they might avoid any major pot-holes when they confront Cavan in Round Two of the All-Ireland football qualifiers at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (5.00).
The Mournemen’s abject failure to trim Donegal’s winning margin to what might be termed a respectable figure in an hugely one-sided Ulster championship semi-final earlier this month has not only heaped pressure on them but spawned the belief that further embarrassment could be in the offing.
For manager Eamonn Burns this game is laden with difficulties, apprehension and indeed fear. With scoring ace Donal O’Hare an absentee, morale still fractured following that semi-final tale of woe and supporters fearing the worst, the backdrop could hardly be more challenging.
Cavan boss Mattie McGleenan has been at his diplomatic best in talking up Down’s more venerable warriors but his counterpart Burns is only too well aware that unless his entire team and whatever substitutes are deployed stand up to the counted, then the Mourne roof could cave in.
Connaire Harrsion, Conor Maginn, Caolan Mooney and Darren O’Hagan can be expected to take the fight to Cavan but even their combined experience and guile is unlikely to seriously discomfit of the mechanism of a side that looks certain to take its lead from Gearoid McKiernan, Dara McVeety, Padraig Faulkner, Caoimhn O’Reilly and Cian Mackey.
Armagh, though, will travel to Sligo fortified by rather more hope. A 3-16 to 1-11 dismissal of Westmeath in the previous round has imbued Kieran McGeeney’s side with an additional layer of confidence although the absence of Ethan Rafferty, Paul Hughes and Stephen Sheridan will still be felt.
McGeeney’s faith in players such as Jemar Hall, Joe McIlroy and Ryan McShane is beginning to pay dividends, though, and with Charlie Vernon, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker and Mark Shields there to lend a seasoned edge, they could take another stride along the championship path.
Tyrone may have flirted with danger before surmounting the stiff challenge of a robust Meath side, but even though much is being made of Carlow’s ongoing renaissance, it is unlikely that the beaten Leinster semi-finalists will impede the Red Hands’ admittedly unconvincing progress.
Mickey Harte’s side have still to rediscover their championship mojo in the wake of that unseemly drubbing by Dublin last August but today they could turn the corner in some style.
And Monaghan should enjoy an even more trouble-free outing against minnows Waterford who could scarcely believe their good fortune in overcoming Wexford in Round One.
They will find Malachy O’Rourke’s side, still harbouring a deep sense of embitterment after their eclipse by Fermanagh, in no mood to exhibit leniency. Anything other than a handsome Monaghan win will be a major shock.