The imminent start of the football action has really caught me unawares. Here we are at Thursday evening already, with the match taking place on Saturday, and I haven’t yet done the usual pre-match piece checking in on the opposition. It’s definitely time to get to it.
So it’s the Mourne County we play in our opening round National League Division Two North encounter this weekend. The match throws in behind closed doors at MacHale Park at 2pm on Saturday but it’s being streamed live on GAA GO – details on how to access it are here. Fergal Kelly from Longford is the ref.
Here’s some top-line stats: we’ve played them 21 times in League and Championship at Senior level. The first time we met was back in 1941 and the most recent was in 2019. We’ve won eleven, lost nine and drawn one of those games, scoring a total of 20-206 and conceding 21-191. As you can see, I just just love the new search function on the results archive – thanks, Mark!
It makes sense to take that 2019 meeting – in Round 2 of the qualifiers up in Newry in June of that year – as our point of departure. We were, once more, endeavouring to set out on a long and winding road to the latter stages of the Championship, Down were seeking to claim a significant scalp and keep their summer alive in the process. There was a heaving, boisterous crowd at The Marshes that evening – God, do you remember those days? – and we had to survive a right battle before we emerged with a five-point win.
That finished the Mourne County’s inter-county season. At the start of 2020 they were in Division Three of the League (two divisions below us), as they’d been the year before as well, narrowly losing out on promotion then on score difference.
They ended up getting promoted from the third tier last year, although it was a campaign that saw them hit a few wobbles. But then again, with Covid-19 now in our midst, everyone was suffering wobbles of one kind or another.
They began in January last year with a Round 1 0-10 apiece draw against Tipperary in Clonmel. A week later, back at Páirc Esler in Newry, they edged out Derry by 0-14 to 0-12 to bag their first win of the year.
Cork were on a mission to escape Division Three last year – one they accomplished with seven straight wins – and in Round 3 Down came away empty-handed from Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a freezing February day. The Rebels ended that match with just 13 players on the field but they still claimed a 0-16 to 1-8 win over their Ulster visitors.
Down got back on track back on home soil against Longford in Round 4. This was another close contest, in which the home side prevailed by 2-13 to 1-14.
In the final round of League games played before the Covid-induced interregnum Paddy Tally’s team bagged another win. This one was on the road, at O’Connor Park in Tullamore, where they proved far too strong for Offaly, winning by 0-17 to 0-9. By now, Down were well placed to go on and seal promotion.
When the action resumed in October, their cause was boosted without having to kick a ball, as Leitrim were forced to concede their Round 6 fixture. Down ended their campaign with a surprising 3-14 to 0-16 loss at Dundalk to neighbours Louth but, although this enabled Derry to catch them on nine points, the head-to-head rule meant it was the Mourne County who took the second promotion spot.
In last winter’s one-slip-and-you’re-gone Championship Down got two days out in Ulster before crashing out. Early in November they were too strong for Fermanagh in their Ulster quarter-final clash at Brewster Park, coming away with a 1-15 to 0-11 win. In the semi-final against Cavan, however, they blew an eight-point half-time lead at the Athletic Grounds to lose by a single point, 1-14 to 1-13, to the side that would then go on to claim a famous Anglo-Celt Cup success.
Since then Down have, of course, been making their headlines off the pitch. Well before the Dubs were snapped training collectively when they shouldn’t have been, the Mourne lads were caught red-handed at the same crack, with Paddy Tally showing disarming honesty afterwards by admitting they “hadn’t a leg to stand on” in relation to the breach. He got a 12-week ban for his troubles, setting a standard for those other managers who subsequently came in his wake.
Will Down’s too-early return to collective training mean that they’re in too-fine fettle for us to stick with them on Saturday? Or will we, seeing as we’re playing a League match in the middle of May, finally record a home win for the first time since Methuselah was a nipper?
Questions, questions. Now it’s over to you, dear reader, to help give a sense of how everyone is feeling about what the answer might be.
How will we do against Down?
- Win (86%, 431 Votes)
- Lose (9%, 46 Votes)
- Draw (5%, 23 Votes)
Total Voters: 500