Knock Down

Next Saturday will mark our first senior championship clash with Down but it won’t be the first time we’ve met them on the field of play. John Cuffe looks back at previous memorable encounters we’ve had with the Mourne County.

Their five All-Irelands surpass our three, ours came in the first half of the last century and their initial ones from the Swinging Sixties. Both counties are seen as footballing counties first and both have their share of legends. Both heal fast and move back up the pecking order.

And yet they have never crossed paths at championship senior level. They have at minor and U21 though, plus a league final. Down never lose finals in Croke Park they say. Partially true, their minors bent the knee in 1966. Mayo possessed a stellar minor team (pictured below); it was their fourth final in an eight year period, three early ones being lost.

Eugene Rooney, Seamus Hughes, Seamus O’Dowd, Tom Fitzgerald, Des Griffith and Sean Kilbride became solid seniors, most picking up a national league medal along with two Connacht senior medals in the 1967-1970 era. Down lost but their star men two years later stitched a side that put Kerry to the sword in the 1968 senior final. Sloan, Colm McAlarney, John Purdy, Cole, Rooney and Murphy won Celtic Crosses.

We came across them again in 1977 were they saw off another fine Mayo minor outfit. Belmullet’s WJ Padden, Tom Reilly (Cavan chairman today) and Mick O’Toole were stand-outs. Time was to pass until they met in the 1999 minor final. Inverse numbers there, 1966 turned into 1999. Willie Joe was replaced by Billy Joe but Mayo minors were eternal then.

Down shaded it but a fantastic Mayo minor team reaped a rich harvest. Pat Kelly, Coady, Conor Moran, Gill, Gavin Duffy, BJ and Alan Dillon gave/still give the county some service. Rugby claimed a pair; soccer claimed O’Hara and managers were indifferent to Brogan from Knockmore who was useful.

Benny Coulter was the Down talisman that day, still is though. By 2005 Down beat a Mayo side out of sorts, Pat Spillane made a joke of them that night on The Sunday Game, he referenced trips to Knock, McStay just said we would keep trying. Strange that a team that had Cafferky, Noone, Barrett, Cunniffe, Hanley, Campell, Kilcullen and O’Shea succumbed so easy to Down?

A year later most of the above named were All-Ireland U21 champions. The sides met again in 2009 in Longford where their U21s surprisingly in my view beat a good Mayo side containing Keane, Vaughan, McLoughlin, Parsons, AOS,Douglas and Doherty, perhaps having Gibbons and Alan Freeman as subs that day didn’t help our cause. They may have offered an alternative on-field.

Poland and McComiskey were their go-to men with a solid midfield of McGee and Fitzpatrick. Rewind the clock a year and we were in Croke Park together. They lost to Wexford and we lost to Tyrone in Round 4 of the qualifiers. We were getting close to meeting them but didn’t quite get to swop phone numbers at senior level.  We then shared Croke Park with them again in 2010. We got a humping in the League Division One final, they got the same in the Division Two decider. For us, Sligo and Longford finished the rogering a month or two later. Down however gave Kildare and Kerry a little of their own medicine before losing the All-Ireland final to Cork by a single point.

So finally we get to dance together. They will fancy this one. But so too will we. In the league final of 1970 (Mayo team pictured below) following a controversial semi-final one-point win for Mayo over Derry, Down were scorching favourites to tan us. We traded point for point, and then they got a penalty. The great Paddy Doherty hit the post with it. The rebound travelled out thirty yards and wound up in the Down net after a series of Mayo moves.

Mayo went berserk scoring three more goals. Ball in hand, wave after wave of Mayo assault broke Down’s back. The final score was Mayo 4-7 Down 0-10. It was glorious. The All-Ireland winners of two years previous were laid to waste. So we fear only fear itself facing them. I see us as fine, my fear is that we will get yet another refereeing performance going against us. Otherwise we will knock Down down.

Photo credits: Pictures of Mayo minor All-Ireland winning team of 1966 and Mayo NFL winning team of 1970 from Terry Reilly’s The Green Above The Red. Photo taken at the end of the Down/Mayo U21 All-Ireland semi-final in 2009 from my own collection – WJ. 

15 thoughts on “Knock Down

  1. Just bought my tickets for Saturday. The Dublin v Laois game is printed in large font in bold while we’re buried below on the undercard!

    I thought both games were All Ireland quarter finals???

  2. Entertaining as always John – fair play.

    Maybe it’s nerves, or an after-effect of several let-downs over the years, but I’m wary of tipping Mayo when we are seen as favourites. We haven’t delivered on many occasions when this was the case – Longford ’10, Meath ’09, the first day against both Fermanagh and Laois in ’06 and many more.

    Down are as unpredictable as ourselves. They might collapse the next day, or they might catch fire and streak away from us, as they did against Kerry two years ago. Given their last two trips to Castlebar, they certainly won’t have any fear of Mayo.

    It would be great to see Mayo deal maturely with the favourites tag – i.e. ignore it, and steam into Down as if Down were the favourites. Mayo can win this game. Here’s hoping they drive on and do so.

  3. Fantastic piece John, amazing knowledge , how you can remember some of that stuff is a credit to ya.

    The thing that always stands out to me about that barren period of the 70s for Mayo football is , why did it happen? Now i wasn’t born till 77 so i obviously can’t recall this period but it just seems to me there should of been so much coming through and the league campaigns seemed top notch, was it emigration or badly run board or what?

    Really starting to look forward to the game now, i’m very optimistic but a bit nervous at the same time.

  4. According to reports Alan Murphy now on panel.see Mayo news.also A O Shea likely to start.Mayo have to beat Down well if we have any expectation of matching Dublin or Laois

  5. Both teams will approach this one with a strong feeling they can win it. And the truth is either of them can so leaves it a hard one to call. The pundits will probably favour Mayo but only because we had a better campaign in last years championship and on paper we made a bit more progress than Down in the League campaign – but as has been pointed out Down got the better of us in McHale Park. I can’t fathom any other reason why we should be tipped over Down on saturday.

    The case for and against can be fairly well balanced when comparing the two sides. Neither is afraid of the other for sure. Both have a reasonable amount of experience around Croke Park on big match day. Both are Div 1 teams. And over recent years the track records are not much different in that either can be brilliant or average on any given day.
    In this years campaign Down haven’t exactly set the world on fire but despite some topsy-turvey displays they are still there where they want to be. Is Mayo 2012 any different? Don’t think so. We haven’t been beaten but let’s face it after matches against Leitrim and Sligo under our belt it’s hard to know where we are at. Down, by comparison, have 4 championship outings so far against Fermanagh, Monaghan, Donegal and Tipperary but of those the only ranked team was Donegal and if the outcome there is an indicator they have some problems that may not have been exposed in the other games. (well maybe against Monaghan where they nearly came unstuck!).

    On Saturday evening I don’t think either team will lack in work rate or fitness so really it’s whoever comes into this with the best mental mindset will have the advantage. It’s not a major clash of styles (a la Donegal v Kerry) as both teams play a relatively open style by todays standards. Winning midfield (as always) will be vital and our pairing (whoever they may be) will be carrying a lot of expectation but no right to dominate against the likely Down pairing of Kalum King and Ambrose Rodgers. Could be a lot of breaking ball to be won so let’s be sharp on that.

    End the end it may just come down to who’s wearing the best shooting boots on the day. Or maybe even which side gets the lucky break somewhere in the 70 minutes.

    Wouldn’t be surprised coming out of Croke Park after this one that the winner will be happy to have got the decisive score and the other saying they could have won it except for …

    Despite all that I think Mayo will come away with the spoils. Why? Well because they have the stronger bench to fix any problems on the day plus the attitude so far this year has been very positive. Those two factors, under the control of the management on the sideline, should see us right.

  6. Great piece as always John. I have no memory or first hand knowledge of the 70’s and before, so it’s great to read stuff like that.

    I’d agree with you DavyJ, the favourites tag doesn’t sit well with me either. But sure it doesn’t ever seem to be a problem with Kerry, Cork, Tyrone or lately Dublin. So if we want to be regarded as equals with these type of teams, this is a game we simply have to win. But like you said, steam into them. We need to try and blitz them early on, make them realise we’re a different proposition than Mayo teams might have been in the past. Feck it, pick up a couple of ‘tactical’ yellow cards if we have to. We need to stamp out authority on the game right from the off.

  7. Here lads, seems like we (Down) shouldn’t bother turning up on Saturday?

    Wouldn’t be the first favourites to buckle!

    Down is not a great team at the minute and it is right to say Mayo people jumped up and down when they got Down, however, we are still Down and there is undoubtedly a confidence and a resiliency we carry into games like this…

  8. I think your lads should definitely turn up on Saturday An Dun Abu, and I don’t believe we’re in any way overconfident about the outcome. It’s obviously a good draw for the both of us – we avoided Kerry and Kildare, you avoided Cork and Dublin – and it has the makings of a very even contest. We’re well aware from 2009 (when we fell on our faces against Meath at the quarter-final stage) that coming into a match like this as favourites means nothing on the day itself and Down’s track record in Croke Park is one that has to be respected.

  9. Good luck anyway and may the best team win!

    Certainly at the minute (as long as you don’t get two lucky goals, lol) you can be sure if you beat us we will support Mayo all the way!

    Lets hope for a good match and I am sure the pundits will tear into us for sure before the match and then eat their words afterwards!

  10. Just heard …Mayo and Down have given Dublin a bye into the final…no point in turning up they say. Also as Kildare are now carved in stone fourth best team in country Down and Mayo playing for fifth and sixth place.

  11. 1936 is indeed in the first half the last century, but 1950 & 1951 are in the second half.

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