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Down know the score as Cork loom on horizon: McKernan

 

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Old hand: Kevin McKernan’s vast experience will help bolster the Down defence against Cork

Old hand: Kevin McKernan’s vast experience will help bolster the Down defence against Cork

�INPHO/Jonathan Porter

Old hand: Kevin McKernan’s vast experience will help bolster the Down defence against Cork

The hurt which Down endured in missing out on promotion last year on score difference is proving a huge motivational factor ahead of Sunday's crucial Allianz Football League Division Three trip to Cork, according to veteran defender Kevin McKernan.

A cornerstone of the Mourne county defence for over a decade - he filled the left-half-back role against Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland final - McKernan has more experience than most of the heartbreak that Down have suffered in both league and championship in recent years.

But having held Tipperary to a draw and beaten Derry in the opening two rounds of the current league, he has particular cause to welcome the buoyancy and verve that has infiltrated the squad as they bid to sustain their drive to reach Division Two.

Down have become accustomed to residing in the shadows as they have not won the Ulster title since 1994 nor dined at the top table in the league for several years.

And this sits uncomfortably with Paddy Tally's ambitious panel as they seek to write their own chapter in the county's GAA annals.

"It was heartbreaking to have missed out on promotion last year on score difference and we have since talked about the importance of winning every ball, making every tackle and taking every score if we are to keep up our drive for promotion," insists McKernan.

"We are very intent on trying to keep games close and hit teams on the break. You have to play it the way that you see it and we are content now that the team is developing in the way that we want.

"We believe that this looks good for the rest of our campaign in Division Three but, no matter how you look at it, this is a massive game against Cork on Sunday. We definitely need a result from this one."

A league competition that is rapidly becoming a proper, captivating, purist's-delight festival of football is suddenly attracting a level of spectator and media attention that is normally reserved for championship fixtures in high summer.

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's win over Derry, supporters at Pairc Esler, Newry were already making arrangements for their trip to Cork.

"It's great to see the fans getting behind us and we could certainly do with their support," maintains McKernan.

"Cork are unbeaten like ourselves and they will want to go into the league break with maximum points."

Manager Tally, who has brought his Kilcoo club representatives back into the panel, acknowledges that Cork will ask big questions of his side.

It was Kilcoo's Jerome Johnston who scored the crucial 68th minute point that eased Down into a 0-13 to 0-11 lead over Derry before Donal O'Hare pirated the all-important insurance score from a free.

"This will be a massively tough game against Cork and we are certainly under no illusions about the task we face," insists Tally.

"People keep talking about promotion but you can only take things week by week. Division Three is going to be a dog-fight because there is so little to choose between the all the sides.

"If you look at Division Three and indeed the other divisions to date, you will see that matches are being decided by very fine margins for the most part and, indeed, draws have become commonplace."

Tally's deployment of substitutes proved crucial against Derry with Liam Kerr, Pat Havern, Peter Hagan, Daniel Guinness and Sean Dornan all underlining their value to the side.

And it's McKernan who puts his finger on what he believes is a key factor in Down's upbeat start to the league.

"Competition for starting places is intense and now with the Kilcoo boys back that has been stepped up even further so everyone is actually driving everyone else on in training," states the Burren clubman.

Meanwhile, Donegal manager Declan Bonner expects his team to face their biggest test of the year so far when Galway are the visitors to Letterkenny on Sunday.

Galway have beaten Monaghan and lost to Kerry by a singe point and in both matches they have shown levels of cohesion, accuracy and spirit that could stand to them.

Donegal drew with Mayo in their opening game before accounting for Meath rather easily at the weekend.

Bonner still faces injury worries and it is not known yet if Patrick McBrearty will be available again following his period in the United States.

While Bonner was impressed by Donegal's win over Meath, he still thought they should have posted more scores.

Belfast Telegraph