Monday, May 20, 2024
SportBig day for Down ladies

Big day for Down ladies

THE Down ladies are hoping that the fans come out in their droves to see them play in Croke Park on Sunday. The Mourne footballers take on Limerick in the All-Ireland junior final, and a win will earn them a place back in Intermediate football next year. Co-manager Caoibhe Sloan, who takes the team alongside Peter Lynch, said they expect the final to be a great day for the county. “It is a day that a lot of people in the county are looking forward to and while we have a bit more nervous energy than the rest of the county because we have to perform, a lot of people are organising their buses and that is what you want. You want to see the red and black in Croke Park. We hope they come in their droves.

“We really hope we can give a performance that does ourselves justice. We hope that that is good enough on the day, and if it is not then we can hold our heads up and say we threw everything at it.” Win or lose, the Down management believe the 2023 season has been a great success. “It is not so much this game (that is important). All year we have said is that we want to build something where girls want to come and play football not for the end goal. “I know that with myself and Peter having won Armagh and Ulster titles with Shane O’Neill’s, and Peter has won quite a bit more with Shane O’Neill’s, my own sister has won as well. We don’t know where the medals are. “What you remember is the Tuesdays and the Fridays and you remember the craic that you had along the way. You remember how you were able to implement a game plan. You remember the resilience you showed. That is what it is really about. We said that to the girls. We said don’t for one second be a destination junkie. This is a journey. You have to enjoy it.”

Caoibhe explained that they have achieved their goal because there are younger members of the team working so hard to make the first team squad. “In the middle of this year we brought in a couple of minors who had just finished their minor campaign. “They have been exceptional but a lot of the time they are not making the 30-person match day squad. But they are busting themselves. Young Emily Bingham Abbot from Clonduff broke into the 30. Anna Craven, Cara Bradley, Niamh McGrath from Saval are really pushing themselves hard to get into the panel. “That is not something that me and Peter had when we were here before, from 2019 to 21.” And she added that the attitude in Down is one of great positivity. “The older ones are spurred on because they see we are building something.” “They want to leave a legacy of sorts where they leave the Down jersey in a better place than where they got it. “To get the win would be the cherry on top. We know Down football is moving in the right direction. We want to win on Sunday, if we don’t we will keep plugging away.” For some of the older players, leaving the jersey in the better place might mean getting back to Intermediate level. While they won’t want to be “destination junkies” as Caoibhe described it, getting back up to a higher level is important. “With getting relegated to junior a lot of girls were really hurt and really annoyed that they had played intermediate for a lot of their time and were constantly pushing to the top in intermediate.” But it won’t be an easy challenge according to Caoibhe. Down are playing a Limerick team who are very tough. Even though Down beat the Treaty women earlier in the championship, Caoibhe said this weekend will be a real test. “You can’t underestimate Limerick. They are a serious outfit. They have physicality and speed all over the field. It is going to take our best and we hope it is enough. “Limerick played in 2019 and beat Louth. Incidentally my partner was on that Louth team who were beat by Limerick, and Louth had beaten them earlier that year.” And she added a comment about the win over Limerick in the group stages. “We would be the first to tell you that we got the rub of the green that day. “That was a real nip and tuck battle. There was a strong wind in the second half. “Though both of us were already in the semi-final it was a chance to try players and it was a serious battle. We went hell for leather and there was nobody trying players. It was a real battle and we expect the same. “This is going to be a mammoth task. There is a lot of football to be played despite all the hype.” The key for Down this season has been their mental strength. “The mental resilience that they are constantly showing has been really positive. The challenges that we have faced, they are standing up to them. We knew that that would be important come the latter stages. It is something that we worked on early on that players would take responsibility.”

There is some good news for Down in the return of Alice McAlea who is back training with the squad having missed much of the season with a knee injury. Caoibhe said, “She is fighting for her jersey and is flying fit. Fair play to her, she barely missed a session. Her and Sarah Dougherty were both out with long-term knee injuries. Sarah is doing her rehab while we are training. The two of them are incredible. The resilience they are showing is kind of pushing everybody on too.” Perhaps the one issue that Down may face is the pressure of having to deliver in the final game. Caoibhe felt that the team have the experience to deal with that. “There are a couple of girls there who have been in Croke Park before in the 2014 All-Ireland (Intermediate Championship). The likes of Orla Boyle, Clara Mulvenna, Emily Martin, Meghan Doherty. Kate McKay got injured that year. All of those girls are sharing their experiences. Mark (Poland) and Kevin (McKernan) have both played there. My partner Leanne is part of the backroom team and she has played there too. “People are sharing their experiences and saying that it is just a football field. You can let it all get in your head or you can play football.” On Sunday, the Down girls will go out and play football in the hope that they can win the All-Ireland title. But as Caoibhe said, their season has already been a huge success.

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