GAA – ULSTER JUNIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER-FINAL
DOWNINGS will enter the Ulster Junior Championship for the second time this Sunday, and they are hoping to fare better than they did in 2012 when they lost to Monaghan champions Drumhowan.
Current team manager Andy Connor was on the team four years ago, but despite scoring a point, he couldn’t prevent Downings from losing on a scoreline of 0-10 to 1-6.
Connor says the team didn’t produce the goods in 2012, but he feels they have a better team this year, and they will give it their best against Derry champions Magilligan in Celtic Park on Sunday.
“We didn’t perform back then, but to be fair, I think we have a better team now.
“We had a lot of older boys back then, but we’ve got younger lads in their place now.
“Lorcan (Connor) wasn’t playing then, and boys like Gary ‘Ban’ (McClafferty) are four years older now and more experienced.”
Urris reached the Ulster Junior Final in 2014, and if Downings can gather a bit of momentum, they could do well in the province..
However, Connor was quick to stress that they won’t be getting too far ahead of themselves.
Unlike most other teams in the competition, Downings have plenty of experience of facing clubs from other counties, as they won the All-Ireland Gaeltacht title down in Ballyvourney, Cork on the June Bank Holiday Weekend.
That triumph should help them as they step outside of Donegal this weekend, although the Downings manager says they will experience a different type of football.
“We’ll just take it one game at a time. That’s how we approached things down in Cork for the All-Ireland Gaeltacht.
“It could be an advantage for us that we have played against teams from other counties.
“But at same time, we were up against clubs from Mayo, Kerry, Cork, and Galway and none of them played defensive. Even in the All-Ireland Final, the team played one-on-one and that kind of played into our hands.
“Teams in Ulster generally play more defensively and from what we’ve seen of Magilligan, they get plenty of bodies back.”
Downings edged out Naomh Pádraig, Muff by a point in the Donegal Junior decider three weeks’ ago, but it was far from a stellar performance.
Connor’s men were clear favourites to win, but when Oisin McColgan scored a goal midway through the second half, they found themselves in a tricky position.
“It was a blow but I asked Seimi (Connor) how long was left and he said more than ten minutes, and I thought well at least we have time anyway.
“We didn’t panic and worked the ball down the field and got scores from Lorcan and Colin (Gallagher). Gary came on too and that gave us a lift.
“I just felt if we could keep the ball down in their end then we would get the chances.
“We were delighted to win, but we know if we play like how we did against Muff on Sunday, we’ll lose.
“No bad team wins a county title, and Magilligan will be a tough team. They have played a bit in Celtic Park as well, and that probably makes them favourites.”
The Derry Junior Final was played the week after Downings’ triumph and a delegation from the Mevagh travelled to the Oak Leaf County to watch the decider.
Magilligan edged out Drum by 0-12 to 0-11, and Connor says they are an experienced outfit.
“We went into their game and it was a tight match. Drum had played 18 games this year and had only lost one, and everyone seemed to think they were going to win.
“But from the first five minutes, you knew Magilligan were up for it.
“They went 3-0 in front and when Drum came back at them, they were just always able to get another score and stay in front.
“They’re a different team from us in the sense that they are a lot older. We have a lot of young lads, while they are all men.
“They have a young corner-forward, and a young full-forward, but most of them are in their last twenties/early thirties.
“That’s not something we would have come up against too much in Donegal.
Downings warmed up for their Ulster quarter-final with a draw against local rivals Gaeil Fhánada last Saturday and Connor was happy to get a good competitive run out.
“It was a good run out for us, and it was far better than a training exercise.
“We were missing a few, but you never want to lose to your local neighbours.
“There was an incentive for boys that came into the team to come in and keep their place, and two or three of them definitely stepped up. I have a few selection headaches going into the weekend.
Gary ‘Ban’ McClafferty was the Downings matchwinner in the game against Naomh Pádraig, but he was only fit for a cameo role, and Connor says he is still not fit to play the full sixty minutes.
However, the Downings manager does expect his ace attacker to make an impact when introduced.
“He only played ten minutes against Muff and we’d be happy if he got 15 on Sunday.
“He’s only done two running sessions since the county final and his knee is still giving him trouble.
“We’d be hopeful that he can come on and make an impression for us, but he definitely won’t start. He’s a handy man to have as a sub.”
Date: Sunday October 30
Venue: Celtic Park
Referee: Margaret Farrelly (Cavan)