THIS past week has been a very tough one for Down football, none more so than for the players and management team.
They would have looked forward to the game against Monaghan with great hope as well as an expectation that they could cause an upset.
What transpired though was something that they never imagined in the build up to the game, an over-whelming defeat that has further rocked them to the core after a difficult League campaign.
Down started quite well in the first half. Their full-forward line was winning ball and but for some poor decision making, could have had more points on the scoreboard.
Those misses, coupled with some very soft frees for Monaghan, swung the game in Monaghan’s favour and instead of going in level or even ahead at half time, they were three points down.
Those niggling doubts about themselves from the League would have started to creep up and Monaghan would have had confidence from the way they ended the half. We all know what happened in the second half and when a team gets a run on you like Monaghan did it is very hard to stop.
Throughout my career I have suffered too many defeats like the one the Down team suffered on Sunday. It makes you question everything about yourself as a player and what you have sacrificed for the past six to nine months.
You still have to get up and go to work or school the next morning when all you really want to do is shut yourself away. Some of the people you meet will be diplomatic and respectful of the disappointment and hurt you are feeling while others are as subtle as sledgehammers and will want to dissect every aspect of the match with you including pointing out all your failings and what you should or shouldn’t have done.
I’m lucky that I come from a GAA background and the greatest noise in our house after one of those defeats is silence because everybody felt the disappointment with you.
However what you don’t expect to deal with is formers teammates or past players to be rubbing salt into your wounds whether it is intentionally done or not.
One of the main headlines in the following days after the match was Marty Clarke telling the world that it would have been nice if he had gotten a phone call. Marty has been an inspirational player for a number of years for all young men in Down.
When he came back he was one of the main reasons that they reached an All Ireland final but Marty has well documented health problems and he is remarkable to be still playing club football to the level that he is.
If Marty really wanted to play football for Down why didn’t he ring Eamonn Burns and tell him? His professionalism and commitment from his time in the AFL would have been a huge benefit to these players but he chose to say this on national TV during of one of their worst ever defeats.
And the biggest insult of all to the management, county board, supporters and panel of players who chose to commit to their county was to be subjected to images allegedly appearing on social media of ex-panel members showing off their gambling winnings on the back of this defeat.
Playing for Down is a privilege, one that many club footballers won’t get no matter how much they want it or how hard they work for it, the player above doesn’t deserve to play for Down no matter how talented they may be deemed.
I don’t generally read discussion forums online but this week I decided to read them before I wrote this article and the comments that I read where shocking to say the least. The people that write on these discussion forums are well entitled to their opinion but they don’t look at the overall picture.
Supporters are a huge part of playing and the money that they spend travelling to games to support their team is a huge sacrifice especially for away games. People list out their teams of who should and shouldn’t be playing but this is in an ideal world.
Benny Coulter, Dan Gordon, Ambrose Rodgers, Paul McComiskey are all names who have been mentioned who should have been playing but what they don’t understand that these players chose not to play. Playing senior inter-county football is a huge commitment and I don’t think that people understand that, work, family, travelling and having your own life sometimes take priority for people.
Maybe now isn’t the time for lambasting everyone and everything connected to Down football. The current county board are taking strides by setting up academy’s and underage development squads.
Instead of voicing problems and highlighting perceived failings why don’t people come forward with solutions or ideas on moving forward and putting Down football in a better place in the years to come?
The Qualifier draw wasn’t a bad draw for Down and hopefully gives them the opportunity to get some confidence together for a good run in the qualifiers. Best wishes to Eamonn and all the team for coming weeks.