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Down great Doherty says Burns' men can restore some pride

 

By John Campbell

As the fall-out from Down's shock demotion to Division Three of the Allianz Football League reverberates around the county, there are growing fears for the team's ability to make an impact in the Ulster Championship.

This time last year, Down just managed to cling onto their place in Division Two when Jerome Johnston hit a wonder point in the dying moments of the crucial away fixture to Cork and other results went their way.

Today, it's a rather different story. Down hurtle into Division Three burdened by pressure and apprehension as well as a feeling of disbelief that appears to have enveloped the county.

Yet one of Down's greatest ever players believes there is still hope that the team can resurrect pride in the black and white jersey.

Paddy Doherty, who won All-Ireland medals as a marquee forward in 1960, '61 and '68 and is regarded as one of the truly outstanding forwards in the history of the GAA, remains a passionate Down follower even in his 84th year and prefers to dwell on what he feels are the admittedly limited positives as he surveys the future.

"Back in 1959 when we were ploughing along, we never thought for a minute that we would win the All-Ireland title the following year. It was an even bigger surprise to us when we retained the Sam Maguire Cup the following year, so I'm saying to the present bunch of players - have faith in yourselves, give it your absolute commitment and try to send out the best message possible in relation to Down football," urged Doherty.

The Mournemen, of course, have contributed to their own demise not least by their inability to win consistently at home and their profligacy when scoring chances present themselves.

"I think that winning breeds confidence but you only win if you put the ball over or under the bar regularly enough in any game," pointed out Doherty. "Down just haven't been doing that. They shot something like 15 wides against Cavan and they have been missing goal chances too so the players have to take their share of the blame.

"I honestly believe anyway that county teams should engage in more shooting practice. I note that a number of managers have been lamenting the missed chances their sides have recorded and pinpointing this as a major cause of their teams losing games.

"There is no point in a player being supremely fit and bursting with stamina if he can't put the ball over the bar - that's what really matters at the end of the day no matter what anyone says."

For all Down's perceived shortcomings, Doherty is still reluctant to lay the blame at the door of beleaguered manager Eamonn Burns.

"I am backing Eamonn to turn things round," declared the man affectionately known the length and breadth of the island as 'Paddy Mo'. "He was thrown in at the deep end after the previous manager Jim McCorry believed he had no option but to resign when he genuinely felt that he was not being given enough support by the county board.

"That's something that should not have happened as far as I am concerned but we are where we are and I know that Eamonn is a true Down man who only wants what is best for football within the county."

Rather than dwell on events from the very recent past, Doherty is keeping his fingers crossed that the team can perhaps replicate the stunning form they showed in last year's Ulster Championship in which they beat Armagh and Monaghan on their way into the final, where they fell to Tyrone before Malachy O'Rourke's side exacted revenge on them in Round 4B of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

He is wary, though, of the challenge that Antrim will present when they come to Pairc Esler, Newry for the Ulster Championship quarter-final on May 26.

"Antrim will be very disappointed with the manner in which they have been consigned to Division Four for another year and they will want to prove themselves in the Championship," added Doherty.

"Wouldn't it be some boost for them if they could beat Down on their own ground? Look at the way we fell to Cork and Clare in the league - you can see why I am anxious about the outcome, although I believe the team has the ability to move on."

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