THE National League returns this week for the Down ladies footballers and they are determined to make a good start in what is an important season for the county. Natasha Ferris told the Mourne Observer last week that the county team were frustrated by how their season ended up in 2022 with them getting relegated to the junior championship. Their league standings didn’t change, they remain in Division Three, which this year will be different because the league has increased from the four-team format of last year, to the old eight-team version. This is good because it will give the Down team more games and will better prepare them for the championship campaign, and their ambition of gaining promotion back to the Intermediate level. What will also help is playing at a higher standard than some of the teams they will be playing at junior level.
Natasha Ferris said: “It might help us that the majority of the teams in Division Three are intermediate. That might give us good preparations going into the championship because we are playing at a higher standard. A lot of the junior teams are Division Four.” But there is also a real possibility that Down could make a push for promotion. The frustration at last year should provide the team with great motivation. Natasha told the Mourne Observer she felt the team were good enough to be promoted. They will be stronger again this season, and have a lot of younger players coming in. Natasha said: “The younger girls who have come in are good and have slotted in well. “They are motivated and determined to perform well for Down and get us moving up the ranks.” She added that the squad is growing and that the future looks good, no matter what happens this year. She said: “There are quite a few younger girls who are minor. “They are training with us as well to bring them into the senior squad, to show them what it is about. They are learning about the strength and conditioning and nutrition aspect. Hopefully that will help them going forward in the next couple of years when they hopefully push their way onto the senior squad.” The addition of the new manager Peter Lynch, who was over the Down ladies a couple of years ago, is a benefit too as he is familiar with the team and knows how to get the best from the squad. They won the Ulster Intermediate title during his tenure. This year he has brought changes, including the way that the team play.
Last year Down won two and drew one of their three games played in the shorter league campaign. In the league they drew with Sligo 3-6 apiece, beat Roscommon by 4-10 to 4-9, and Louth by 2-8 to 2-4. And they lost their league semi-final to Wexford, 4-12 to 3-7. Their opening game against Kildare could be a difficult affair if the Lilywhites maintain similar form to last year’s campaign. They got as far as the Division Three league semi-final, like Down, but lost to Roscommon, who needed four goals to progress.