Mournemen ready for big challenge, insists Tally
When Down came up short by the narrowest of margins against Armagh in the Ulster Championship last month, defeat morphed into utter devastation.
A soothing balm rather than a cure was applied to the team's heartbreak via that qualifier win over Tipperary, but suddenly there is scope for Paddy Tally's side to become completely re-invigorated in a Championship context.
The arrival of perennial All-Ireland nearly men Mayo to pose the latest challenge to the Mournemen in their own back yard tonight (7pm) has not so much reawakened curiosity in Down's fortunes as stoked a further explosion of the passionate interest which has engulfed Ulster as a whole since mid-May.
The Connacht side will come in search of redemption for that slip-up against current pin-up boys Roscommon in their provincial semi-final, while Tally's men aim to prove that they are worthy of an extended journey along the back door route.
"This is really going to be a massive challenge for us," insisted Tally.
Yet while Down's ambitions have been rekindled, a glance at Mayo's gilded line-up will provide confirmation that Tally's men face a monster task.
There may be the odd fresh face in attack, but evergreen defensive personnel Robbie Hennelly, Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan and Lee Keegan have been round so many Championship corners that they have long since lost count of them.
Similarly, if testimonial matches were in vogue then key forwards Jason Doherty, Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin would be putting their hands up while, in contrast, Fergal Boland, Evan Regan and Darren Coen will just continue their quest to become regulars in the line-up.
Down skipper Darren O'Hagan's inspirational leadership has been a constant this year, while Kevin McKernan, Caolan Mooney, Donal O'Hare, the Johnston brothers Jerome and Ryan and Connaire Harrison have applied their experience diligently to their team's cause.