Our winning mentality can clinch promotion: O'Hagan
Down skipper Darren O'Hagan believes that the winning mentality which his side have discovered can play a big part in helping to carry them into Division Two of the Allianz Football League when they meet Carlow tomorrow at Dr Cullen Park (2pm).
The Mourne side made an inauspicious start to the competition when they lost at home to Laois, but since then they have remained unbeaten in four successive matches, during which manager Paddy Tally's team-building formula has been brought into sharp focus.
While former Tyrone trainer Tally has not hesitated to give newcomers their chance in the county colours, a fistful of old hands is proving a stabilising influence within the side while the new-found confidence which has flowed from the team's consistency is now coming into play.
"I think a winning mentality can stand to a team," said O'Hagan. "We might have lost our first game, which was a disappointment, particularly since it was at home, but we have been on something of a roll since then.
"However, we are taking nothing for granted going into this game against Carlow. They will be playing at home, they badly need the points and they will be very keen to get the better of us."
O'Hagan's surges from deep, Caolan Mooney's authority at midfield and Donal O'Hare's unerring accuracy from frees, coupled with the brace of goals scored by substitute Corey Quinn, underpinned Down's most recent win over Offaly.
It was in that game, too, that the younger breed proved their worth within the side, with Pierce Laverty, Ruairi Wells, Daniel Guinness and Conor Poland stepping up to the mark in fine style.
Tally was particularly impressed by the form shown by his substitutes, notably goalscorer Quinn, Conor Maginn and Ceilum Doherty.
Tally pointed out: "I thought that the boys who came off the bench made a big impact but that has been the pattern so far in the league. The lads who have been showing good form in training are proving that when they do get a chance they can carry this form into the games."
Ballyholland man Stephen Poacher is still very much at the helm of operations in Carlow alongside manager Turlough O'Connor, and O'Hagan acknowledges that the former's knowledge of Down football will play a part in Carlow's strategy.
"Stephen knows all there is to know about Down but we just have to focus on our own game," insisted skipper O'Hagan. "The most important thing is to just keep winning games."
On Sunday week, Down will host neighbours Louth at Pairc Esler, Newry, by which stage they may well have gained promotion to Division Two, but O'Hagan makes the point that the remaining matches in the competition could all have a big bearing on just who goes up and who goes down.
"Carlow still have a mathematical chance of winning promotion while the meeting of Louth and Westmeath will be a crucial tie in this connection as well. It's definitely all to play for with several teams still in the mix to go up and it shows you how tight things are in this division," added O'Hagan.
He's certainly not exaggerating there. Down may top the table with eight points but Westmeath are tucked in behind them on seven while Louth and Laois are both on six points.
Carlow are bracketed with Longford on five points, yet if they were to beat Down they could find themselves jostling for promotion, such is the delicate nature of the league table.
Meanwhile, Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson certainly does not have his sorrows to seek as his team prepare to bring down the curtain on what has been a disappointing campaign in Division Four.
Mark Sweeney and Peter Healy are unavailable for tomorrow's meeting with Wicklow at Corrigan Park (2pm) while Kristian Healy is taking time out to fully recover from a long-standing injury.
The Saffrons are hoping to take maximum points from the game and thus enhance their chances of not finishing as the bottom side overall in the league.
Odhran Eastwood and Eoin Nagle, along with James McAuley, linked up with the squad following the defeat of their club St Enda's in the All-Ireland Intermediate final by Kerry and Munster champions Kilcummin.
Manager Harbinson was forced to start the current season without 10 players from last year's panel and, as the months rolled past, his hand was weakened when a number of other players became unavailable to him.
Conor Murray's absence from the attack because of injury has been felt, although his brother Ryan has shown consistency in terms of scoring.
Yet they endured the frustration of losing three games by one point in falling to Derry by 1-10 to 1-9, Waterford by 1-9 to 1-8 and Leitrim by 0-14 to 1-10. Antrim's only win to date came when they beat London by 1-13 to 1-8.
In spite of all their travails, the Saffrons still have a chance of improving their position in the league table as Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Wicklow are all bracketed on four points.
Victory over Wicklow tomorrow would be viewed as a considerable bonus ahead of the trip to face Limerick in Newcastlewest on Sunday week in their concluding league tie.