Down steeled for tough Tipp task
The element of steel that was conspicuous by its absence from the Down defence against Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster final is expected to be restored for the All-Ireland qualifier against Tipperary in Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday.
And the man who can do most to bring a cutting edge to the Mourne rearguard is Conor Garvey who was forced to sit out the provincial decider because of suspension.
The Mayobridge clubman will be restored to a half-back line that is expected to be restructured following the manner in which it capitulated in the second-half against Donegal’s blistering breakaways which yielded an avalanche of scores.
Danny Hughes had initially been listed to start at right-half-back but eventually came on as a second-half substitute in his more familiar link role between defence and attack.
While he scored a point and worked hard it is still possible that he will occupy a seat on the bench again this weekend given that his hamstring injury has not cleared up completely.
And Aidan Branagan and Kevin McKernan — both looked out of sorts against Donegal — will need to show a marked step-up in performance.
McKernan was uncomfortable in his more forward role against Jim McGuinness’s marauding warriors and could yet be deployed at centre-half-back against Tipperary with Garvey at left-half-back, a position in which he is eminently comfortable.
Branagan may have to do with a place on the bench as manager James McCartan seeks to strengthen his team for what will be a difficult assignment against a Tipperary side that have beaten Wexford and Antrim in their qualifiers. In neither of those games were they favourites and manager Peter Creedon was entirely happy with that situation.
“We are well accustomed to being underdogs so even though they lost in the Ulster final last Sunday, Down will be favourites but we can live with that,” he said.
“This will be our biggest match of the year because we know that Down will be very keen to make amends for their display last Sunday,” added Creedon.
Down chairman Seamus Walsh meanwhile has called on all followers to get behind the team again in their bid to make it into the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland series.
“We took massive support to Clones last Sunday which delighted the county board,” he said.
“While people are understandably disappointed that we were unable to get our hands on the Ulster title, I want them to know that the spirit within this side is still good and they have their hearts set on making up for that setback against Donegal,” stated Walsh.
He believes that the incentive of being only one of two Ulster teams to stay in the hunt for the Sam Maguire Cup will inspire the side.
“There are only ourselves and Donegal left in the mix now and we want to remain there,” added Walsh.