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Tally sees Longford test as key for Down's durability


Power play: Darren O’Hagan’s surging runs and defensive ability can still bolster Down’s promotion bid

Power play: Darren O’Hagan’s surging runs and defensive ability can still bolster Down’s promotion bid

�INPHO/John McVitty

Power play: Darren O’Hagan’s surging runs and defensive ability can still bolster Down’s promotion bid

Down manager Paddy Tally has been provided with plenty of food for thought as his team gear up for what he sees as an "absolutely vital" confrontation with Longford in Division Three of the Allianz Football League.

Halted in their tracks by Cork last weekend, the Mournemen now find themselves with ground to make up as they retain their focus on making the leap into Division Two.

Having drawn with Tipperary and beaten Derry prior to that setback against Cork, on Saturday-week, Down must confront an unbeaten Longford side that has overcome Leitrim and Louth and drawn with Offaly.

Last year Down just missed out on promotion on score difference and Tally is anxious to see his team regain their momentum, the feeling being within the county that another season in Division Three would prove a backward step.

In the corresponding match in last year's league, Down emerged handsome winners by 3-8 to 0-7, but Tally makes it clear that there is very little disparity between any of the teams in the division at present.

"I think results to date have shown that teams are on a par with each other to some extent and, while Cork are at the top of the table having won their three games to date, there are other sides in there, including Longford and ourselves, who are very keen to overhaul them," he says.

"This is an absolutely vital game against Longford."

While his team's failure to overcome Cork was a disappointment, Tally can take considerable comfort from the performances of a number of players who are relatively new to the red and black colours.

In this context, Daniel Quinn, Owen McCabe and Cory Quinn have been catching the eye, while Johnny Flynn and Conor Poland have formed a useful midfield alliance.

But Tally is determined that his side show greater cohesion and accuracy in their bid to reach Division Two.

"Last year we lost to Laois and Louth yet won five games, and already this year some managers in the different divisions are saying that 10 points should be sufficient to gain promotion or, in the case of Division One, maybe get to the final," points out Tally.

"But to do that you have to have cohesion and be able to take your chances. We showed against Derry in particular that there is a great spirit in the side and a better strength in depth. We need to make the most of our possession and keep mistakes to a minimum."

Skipper Darren O'Hagan once again proved an inspirational figure against Cork and is now urging his side to replicate the skill and passion they showed in overcoming Derry when Longford come calling at Pairc Esler, Newry.

"Having home advantage against a team like Longford that is riding high should help us but we certainly can take nothing for granted," observes O'Hagan, who scored two points against Cork.

"Promotion has been our target from the outset of the league and this must remain our chief focus."

Down have yet to concede a goal in the league having had 0-38 scored against them in their three matches to date, and defender Gerard Collins believes that if the team can step up its own scoring ratio then progress is possible.

"The style of football that Down play is defensive, and we always believe that, if we stick in there, the chances will come for us," he explains.

"We have had a tough start to the league having had to travel to Tipperary and Cork and face Derry at home and, while we would like to have got more from these games, we are still in a reasonable position.

"I think we have shown, too, we have fresh legs that can come off the bench and give us a boost when we have really needed it, and that is certainly encouraging."

While Tally certainly appears to have unearthed fresh talent, it remains to be seen if they will have the durability to prop up their team's drive to reach Division One.

And while Collins acknowledges that the team faces a stiff challenge, he nonetheless fires out the message that the players must challenge themselves if they are to improve their status in the league.

"I think we know that if we can continue to hang on in there in games, there is always the chance that we can come out on the right side," he adds.

"I think we have shown that we have players who can win matches for us, but we have to ensure that they are put in possession and given the chance to do so.

"The important thing is that we put in strong, consistent performances over the second half of the league."

Belfast Telegraph