Saturday 24th October 2020
LOUTH on the last day of the League – words that should send a shiver down the spine of any Down supporter after what occurred in Newry at the climax of last year's Division Three campaign.
The bunting hadn't quite been hung out but had Paddy Tally been told their promotion hopes would hinge upon a final day decider against the Wee County, he'd have snapped your hand off.
Unfortunately for the Galbally man the Mournemen saved their worst performance of the year for the day when they could least afford it to leave them facing another season in the third tier.
What a difference this time around then, 19 months on, with the squeaky bum business having been taken out of their hands, the dreaded Tailteann Cup safely avoided. Leitrim's last-minute decision to concede Down's penultimate Division Three game left Tally's men on the brink of promotion, with Longford sealing the deal away from the football field by opting out of today's date with Cork.
It's not the terms upon which the Mournemen would have wanted to secure promotion, Tally admitting he had been left with a “hollow” feeling after months of anticipation. However, after what happened in 2019, they'll take it however it comes.
The upshot is that what we are left with in Dowdallshill on Sunday is nothing more than a glorified challenge game between already-promoted Down and already-relegated Louth.
If last weekend's 18-point hammering at the hands of Cork is anything to go by, it looks as though Wee County boss Wayne Kierans has already switched his attention to next weekend's Leinster Championship opener against Longford.
Tally, meanwhile, is using the game to blood some new talent, having named what will likely be his Championship team for last week's non-starter.
Out go the likes of Caolan Mooney, Liam Kerr, Jerome Johnston and Rory Burns, in come John O'Hare, Shane Annett, Ryan McEvoy, Brendan Gallen, Conor Clarke, Dylan Ward and Cormac McCartan.
Down supporters will be glad to see Niall Donnelly back in red and black after an injury nightmare. The Tullylish man is named at midfield but it would be no surprise to see him and 19-year-old Kilcoo starlet McEvoy, lining out at full-back, swap roles at some stage as Tally considers his options for Fermanagh in a fortnight's time.
Down can finish with a flourish, but the bigger picture is already moving into view.
Down: J O'Hare; S Fegan, R McEvoy, B Gallen; C Clarke, C McCartan, S Annett; D Ward, N Donnelly; R Johnston, P Devlin, J Guinness; B O'Hagan, O McCabe, D O'Hare