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Westmeath will pose a massive test for us this time round: Paddy Tally

By John Campbell

There has always been the feeling since the opening day of the season that if and when Down boss Paddy Tally was able to field a potent mix of youth and experience then results would improve.

It was precisely this cocktail that the former Tyrone All-Ireland winning trainer paraded against Sligo last weekend, and although it took a last-gasp Caolan Mooney to get the side over the line and thus avert early back-to-back defeats, the two points have infused a fresh spirit within the side.

But when his charges face Westmeath tonight at Pairc Esler, Newry (7.00), Tally is adamant that it will take an even better performance to keep his side in the promotion frame.

"No matter how you look at it, this is a massive test for us, one we can't afford to lose," insists Tally, "It's imperative that we build on our performance of last weekend."

Mooney is one of a batch of several more experienced players that includes Jerome Johnston, Paul Devlin, Darren O'Hagan, Donal O'Hare and Kevin McKernan who can help to provide the impetus which can elicit significant contributions from promising newcomers such as Pat Havern, Liam Devlin, Conor Francis and Stephen Fegan.

In their opening game on home soil the Mournemen conceded 2-10 during the second half in falling to Laois and Tally will be demanding more vigilance at the back tonight.

And this also applies to Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson who finds himself staring into a particularly tricky situation in Division Four. His side face undefeated Leitrim who, with home advantage, will be keen to emphasise that their league renaissance is to be more than a brief flirtation with progress.

Antrim will need to be on their toes and still require a healthier spread of scorers if they are to pick themselves up off the floor.

Derry, in contrast, look a safe bet to make it three wins in as many outings with Waterford set to be their next victims tomorrow. With Ciaran McFaul, Conor McAtamney, Emmett Bradley, Chrissy McKaigue and Christopher Bradley very much on song, the Oak Leaf side look capable of going clear at the top of the table - and perhaps remaining there.

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