Down assistant manager Cathal Murray says the level of ridicule aimed at the team since the start of 2016 has spurred on the players.
Relegation from Division 1 and a dismal championship showing last year followed by a underwhelming run in Division 2 this year pointed towards a short summer and Éamonn Burns stepping down.
But wins over Armagh and Monaghan have softened several coughs. “You can only kick a dog so much before it bites back, we have heard that said before,” said Murray, “and maybe in terms of our performance, in that we have been at times ridiculed over the last 18 months or so. I only came in this year but there has been a lot spoken and written about the team and it irked a lot of people. And there was obviously a performance that was deep within there.
“We knew we had trained very hard, we had worked as hard as any other team in Ireland. We had a plan that worked well, every man stuck to their task. It was a case of frustration coming out in some guys but men also going to express themselves and playing football. We have always been known as a team that will go and play football on any given day.
“But the nature of the modern game is that it is quite defensively set-up and there is a lot of talk of systems and things like that but we like our boys to play football and it was as much football as anything else, even though we dug in, we worked very hard and we frustrated Monaghan.”
After agreeing to come on board with his former county team-mate Burns at the end of last year, Murray was told he had made a foolish decision. Few are saying it now as Down prepare for an Ulster final with Tyrone this Sunday. “Éamonn gave me a call in September, October time and people I spoke to after who I told I was coming on board, they were saying: ‘Are you mad in the head? Why do you want to get involved in that set-up after the year that they had?’
“But when your county comes and asks you to do a job, you really can’t say no, no matter what the situation is. We knew that we had a tough task ahead of us, but I couldn’t say no to my county. I have been involved before with Antrim and enjoyed the experience. To be asked to work with the best players in the county was something I felt I couldn’t turn down. I felt I could make a difference.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved