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Irwin is calling on the Mournemen to give their all

 

John Campbell

By John Campbell

Down may have endured disappointment in losing to Sligo in the Ulster Minor League Shield semi-final last weekend, but they get an opportunity to regain pride and perhaps send out a significant provincial title message when they face Monaghan in the opening Ulster Minor Championship match tonight.

It's at St Tiernach's Park, Clones (6pm) that the Mourne side will seek to spark an early shock in the competition given that Monaghan reached the All-Ireland semi-finals last year and are regarded as a strong force at minor level.

Down may have made a rather tame start to 2019 but they have shown that in John McGovern and Oisin Savage they possess two talented forwards who are capable of posing problems for the Monaghan defence should they see enough of the ball.

In last Saturday's 1-9 to 1-8 loss to Sligo, McGovern (1-2) and Savage (0-5) landed 1-7 between them and indeed their team might well have come out on top had a penalty effort from the former gone under instead of over the bar.

The Mournemen will face a strongly focused team whose manager Mark Counihan believes can make their presence felt strongly at Championship level again.

"We see Down as a big obstacle in this preliminary round tie and it's a long way from here to winning honours so we're looking no further than this game. It's a quick turnaround from the league final last Saturday but we have to go with it," said Counihan.

Tyrone managed to get the better of Counihan's side in that decider last weekend (1-17 to 1-10) but he feels they can lift their game against a Down side for whom he has high regard.

"They have some very good forwards, there are All-Ireland colleges' winners in their side and they have players who are coming back in after missing out on the league so they will be stronger," insisted Counihan.

Jason Irwin, Karl Gallagher and Shane Hanratty are among the players who help to bolster a Monaghan side which Counihan believes must rise to the challenge from the outset.

All three played in last year's Championship and Irwin now skippers the side from the full-forward berth.

"We need to get off on the right foot and maintain our concentration. Whoever wins will face an away trip the following weekend so you could say that the pressure is on," added Counihan.

Skipper Irwin is also conscious that Down are capable of rising to the occasion in the Championship and predicts that his team will have to work "exceptionally hard" if they are to come out on top.

"Down have a good pedigree at this level and they will be giving it everything so we will have to get off to a good start," insisted Irwin.

"The Minor Championship appears to be very open this year and any one of several teams could go on and win it.

"Monaghan might have made a bit of headway last year but that guarantees us absolutely nothing in terms of this year's Ulster or All-Ireland competitions."

Meanwhile, Jason Gibbons, Conor O'Shea, Colm Moran, Cathal Horan, James Kelly and Ryan O'Donoghue have been released from the Mayo senior squad ahead of next month's Connacht Championship opener against New York.

And it is anticipated that manager James Horan will make further cuts.

While Mayo are expected to overcome New York with some degree of comfort, Horan is focusing strongly on including players who impressed during the Allianz League which his team won.

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