National Football League Division Three
Down v Leitrim
Saturday, Páirc Esler, 7pm
By Niall McCoy
LEITRIM manager Terry Hyland has said that round seven’s home match with Tipperary may present a more realistic chance of securing Division Three survival than Saturday evening’s trip to Newry.
It’s perhaps a sign of the respect Down have gained from an impressive league campaign to date. Their comfortable win in Offaly last time out was even more notable when you consider that they were without their captain and vice-captain, Darren O’Hagan and Donal O’Hare.
In four and a half years as Cavan boss, Hyland only came up against Down once in the league or championship (a 2015 Division Two loss), and while he will travel to Páirc Esler aiming for both points, he knows it is a tall order.
“We’re going up to Down to play a side really looking at promotion,” said Hyland.
“They’re looking to take the step up and we’re looking to take our own step up to make sure we stay in the division.
“It’s probably not the be-all and end-all for us, depending on results the Tipperary game will probably be the crucial one for us. In saying that we will be going up there to try and get two points.”
Mourne boss Paddy Tally is unlikely to take too much notice of the hint of a white flag. He knows that on their day Leitrim can be a dangerous animal.
That was clear in round one when they travelled to Celtic Park and really should have came home with a win before Ciaran McFaul’s late score earned Derry a point.
Three defeats followed before Ryan O’Rourke hit a devastating 2-3 to blow Louth away last time out.
“We have been playing well all through the league but possibly hadn’t been putting it on the scoreboard,” Hyland continued.
“That first day up in Derry was a close game and we probably left it behind us maybe a little bit. That said if someone had said would you take a draw up in Derry then the answer was going to be yes.
“We’ll go to Down and try for the same. If you can keep the game tight and then take your opportunities when they come along then you’re always going to have a chance.
“I don’t think Down will change anything, they normally play defensively, so it will be a case of not giving the ball away more than anything else. It will be a cautious affair.”
Hyland may be Connacht based presently in terms of football but he still keeps an eye on what is happening in Ulster.
The subplot of Down’s promotion bid is to escape playing in the Tailteann Cup, but Hyland believes that they, and others, shouldn’t get too obsessed by that particular goal.
“I think there is a lot made of this league and tier two,” he said.
“Tier two and tier one is determined by how long you stay in the championship. If you’re in Division Four and you get to a provincial final then you’re still tier one.
“It’s not necessarily all about the placings in the league, the provincial games give you a second chance.
“Down were unlucky last year not to get promoted, scoring difference or something beat them.
“They have a strong tradition in football and everyone would expect them to be a Division Two team if not a Division One team. That’s obviously where they want to be.”
Down’s 0-17 to 0-9 win over Offaly certainly helped those ambitions with Barry O’Hagan (0-6), James Guinness (0-3) and Liam Kerr (0-3) all making their mark. Connaire Harrison also came off the bench for his first appearance of the season.
Darren O’Hagan injury situation is a bit unclear but O’Hare will most definitely miss the rest of the league and possibly some of the championship too.
That’s shouldn’t prove too much of a hindrance on Saturday night. Down are in good form at the minute, and it’s hard to see Leitrim throwing a spanner in the works.