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Down hurlers aim for final while footballers await draw

By John Campbell

There are sharply contrasting goals in vogue for the Down hurlers and footballers tomorrow.

While manager Gerard Monan is hoping that the hurlers can book an Ulster final meeting with Antrim at the expense of Armagh whom they meet in tomorrow’s semi-final at Casement Park, his football counterpart James McCartan will anxiously await the identity of his team’s opponents in the first round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers, the draw for which will be made tomorrow night.

Monan’s side looked comfortable in accounting for Derry at the quarter-final stage, a victory which will send them in against the orchard county in good heart.

Michael Johnston’s side overcame Fermanagh and Monaghan to get to the last four but Down, who have stepped up a gear recently, will provide a much bigger test for them despite Monan’s belief that his side will be stretched.

“Armagh have improved under Michael and we are taking this game very seriously. They will be well schooled and will be up for battle,” says Monan.

Conor Woods, Paul Braniff, Gareth Johnston, Sean Ennis and Andy Savage will be key players in a Down side that appears to have the edge over their opponents, who will look to Paul McCormack and Ryan Gaffney for inspiration.

Meanwhile, McCartan is hoping his team can replicate the form they showed in last year’s Qualifiers when they embark on their campaign a fortnight hence.

Last year Down surged through the Qualifiers beating Longford, Offaly and Sligo before going on to account for Kerry and Kildare in the All Ireland quarter-final and semi-final which brought them into the decider against Cork where they lost by 0-16 to 0-15.

Down lost to Armagh in the Ulster championship a fortnight ago and since then McCartan has been working on restoring morale and amending his squad.

John Clarke has, of course, stepped down but Caolan Mooney has come in and there are still hopes that Damien Rafferty and Conor Garvey, who missed the Armagh game, may be fit to play some part in the Qualifiers.

With four other Ulster sides — Antrim, Fermanagh and Monaghan along with the losers of tomorrow’s Cavan v Donegal tie — going into the bowl there is huge interest in the draw.

Several teams with a rich championship pedigree, including Meath, Sligo and Laois, will also be in the frame after losing their respective provincial championship matches.

All-Ireland Football Qualifiers First Round entrants: Down, Antrim, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal, Meath, Laois, Longford, Wicklow, Carlow or Louth, Offaly, Westmeath or Wexford, Sligo, Clare, Tipperary, London.

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