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Down's old guard can provide a major boost for new boss Tally


Big test: Long-serving Down ace Kevin McKernan may be called upon by manager Paddy Tally to bolster his side against Sligo in Collooney
Big test: Long-serving Down ace Kevin McKernan may be called upon by manager Paddy Tally to bolster his side against Sligo in Collooney
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Down manager Paddy Tally was under no illusions that he was shouldering a big burden of responsibility when he agreed to succeed Eamonn Burns as Down football boss.

But while the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup proved a getting to know you exercise in terms of familiarising himself with the fresh crop of recruits to his squad, the Allianz Football League tends to be a more unforgiving environment.

Just how difficult Tally's brief in attempting to restore credibility for the Mourne County is was vividly underlined in last Saturday's opening round home league defeat to Laois when the visitors summoned Donie Kingston, John O'Loughlin and Colm Begley from the bench, each of whom have made more league appearances than the total of 86 which the entire Down side boasted.

Yet Tally, who trained the first Tyrone team that won the All-Ireland title in 2003 and guided St Mary's University College to their Sigerson Cup triumph in 2017, remains unperturbed as he focuses on Sunday's important away trip to Sligo.

The Yeats County may have scored only once from play in their 1-11 to 0-7 loss to Carlow last weekend but even this sobering statistic fails to ignite Down optimism because of the inconsistency that has dogged their footsteps for some time now.

That defeat to Laois last Saturday rekindled memories of the home league losses to Cork and Clare last year that ultimately consigned the side to Division Three from which they must now strive to extricate themselves.

Tally can take comfort from the fact that he has a fistful of more experienced players who are ready to put up their hands for starting places.

Included in this particular batch are Donal O'Hare, Caolan Mooney, Gerard Collins and Kevin McKernan.

Tally can also glean encouragement from the form currently being shown by the emerging Cory Quinn, Daniel Guinness and Ceilum Doherty.

Yet it's not just on the score of available personnel that Tally is training his sights. In the loss to Laois, his players tended to concede both possession and free-kicks too easily, something that clearly frustrated their manager.

"I thought that some of the Laois scores came directly from needless frees that we conceded," admitted Tally. "We had built up a half-time lead, then scored the first point in the second half but we just could not handle the physical strength of the men that they brought on from the bench.

"Now this game against Sligo assumes added importance for us. Had we got something out of the Laois match we might have been under less pressure but now we know we have to go to Sligo looking for a result. We won't be reading too much into their performance against Carlow, we will just be trying to improve our own performance."

Meanwhile, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has made a total of six changes for his team's important home Division One game against Mayo.

Kieran McGeary and Lee Brennan come in to replace Liam Rafferty and David Mulgrew while Michael McKernan drops into the full-back line with Peter Harte reverting to his more familiar left-half-back role.

The half-forward line shows two positional switches with Niall Sludden taking over at centre-half-forward and Kieran McGeary slotting in at left-half-forward.

Lee Brennan gets the nod at left-full-forward while Cathal McShane takes over at full-forward.

Mayo will be chasing back-to-back wins while Tyrone will be keen to make amends for their setback against Kerry.

Mayo manager James Horan has introduced some new faces but still places his faith in a battery of old hands including Keith Higgins, who was involved in an unsavoury incident with Roscommon's Donie Smith last Sunday.

Smith appeared to make contact with the eye of Higgins and the Central Competitions Control Committee has now imposed a one-match ban on Smith as a result of their investigation.

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, H P McGeary; T McCann, R Brennan, P Harte; B Kennedy, D McClure; M Donnelly, N Sludden, K McGeary, D McCurry, C McShane, L Brennan.

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