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Don't repeat the errors we made in 2002, Linden urges Down

Misery: Down’s Damian Turley is dejected after his side’s Ulster quarterfinal defeat to Monaghan
Misery: Down’s Damian Turley is dejected after his side’s Ulster quarterfinal defeat to Monaghan

By Ceclan Bogue

Down great Mickey Linden has warned the Mournemen that they need to be on their guard in the All-Ireland qualifiers against Longford today - or face suffering the same fate he and his team-mates did in 2002.

That loss to the same opposition 14 years ago spelled the end of Pete McGrath's time in charge of his native county, with Linden admitting it was one of the lowest points in his lengthy career.

"It probably was. We were struggling at the time. But I was coming very close to the end of my career at that stage," the Mayobridge man recalled.

"I was playing away with the club and felt very fit and I was good enough to contribute to the county at the time. Longford were always a very tough team to beat, especially in Longford."

Linden believes there are similarities to that Down side and the current crop, with his All-Ireland winning former team-mate Eamonn Burns managing a painful period of transition.

"Unfortunately, Down are in that bracket at the minute, they are trying to build a new team. Eamonn has introduced new players so it is going to take a while to get a bit of experience and get the confidence," he said.

"So many experienced players have left the team over the last couple of years. You just have to give them all time to gain that experience and the more games they can get, the better. Some people say to me that if they get through to the next round you could face a tougher team and you might get another walloping and it wouldn't do them any good.

"For me, it's all about experience for a new team. The more experience you can get, the better."

Linden's old manager McGrath keeps trucking on, and this weekend he brings his Fermanagh side to Innovate Wexford Park to play the Yellowbellies, insisting that they have put their Ulster quarter-final defeat to Donegal behind them.

"The players had a couple of days, talked it over among themselves and when they came back there was a lot of positivity, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of determination to bull on, not to be swamped in self-pity and disappointment," the Rostrevor man said.

McGrath, who famously challenged his men to play football into August in the immediate wake of defeat in last year's Ulster semi-final, insists the goal is the same this time around.

He said: "I knew they would be determined but I was reassured by the mood among the players, that sense of purpose that this campaign will not end on Saturday. We are determined to extend the summer."

He even indulged in a little Brexit-flavoured gallows humour in confirming that no player had walked off the panel or decided to spend the summer in America.

"We closed all the airports and all the ports. Nobody has left and nobody indicated that they were going to leave," he joked. "The squad are sticking together, as they did last year. I think that shows the tightness of the group and it is a very healthy sign."

Finally, Antrim have a home game in Corrigan Park, when Limerick visit west Belfast.

Manager Frankie Fitzsimons said: "We are looking forward to the challenge. It is going to be tough, they are a strong side. I watched them against Clare and they were very unlucky.

"They have some smashing players, the likes of Ian Ryan would make most teams, Seanie Buckley is another at wing-half forward. They have a good strong all-round team."

Belfast Telegraph


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