Donal O’Hare has rejected talk of unrest in the Down camp and insists the players will produce a performance on Sunday to make their supporters proud again.
Rumours of low turnouts at training and general apathy in the wake of relegation from Division One, when they lost all seven games and finished with the worst scoring difference in the country, have peppered the build-up to Down’s Ulster SFC first round game against Monaghan.
Yet O’Hare believes disillusioned fans will be pleasantly surprised by the strength of their challenge in Clones.
“I suppose we let our fans down this year with some of our performances but we know we have a performance in us, and hopefully on championship day we can just bring that,” he said.
“Getting relegated wasn’t the end of the world so get a win against Monaghan, and all that’s forgotten about.
“Morale has been brilliant among the players and the management team and we have put in hard work at training all year, and especially the last six weeks.
“The championship can’t come quick enough.”
It remains to be seen whether Down, 4/1 outsiders in a two-horse race, can hit Clones with the traditional Down swagger of old and pull off an upset out of nowhere.
Their cause isn’t helped by the fact some players decided not to commit this year, including 2015 captain Conor Laverty.
Burren forward O’Hare harbours no animosity towards those who walked.
“It was probably easy enough to watch us getting beat every weekend and they were maybe thinking ‘I’m glad I’m not there’. But I’d say coming into this time of year, it’s well known that boys who step away really miss it at this time of year.
“The ones who couldn’t commit, that was up to them. We just moved on without them.
“We wish them all the best and I’m sure they wish us all the best as well.
“You have seen in the championship so far there hasn’t been any upsets yet.
“The championship is going the way the bookies have it, but hopefully we can give it a good lash.”
The three Ulster championship games this season have been decidedly one-sided and Sunday’s game is unlikely to be any different.
After finishing the league with a scoring difference of -60 and only scoring 2-60 in seven games, it’s obvious Down have had major problems at both ends of the field.
If they’re to stop the rot, getting a big scoring total from O’Hare is crucial and he’s taking comfort from much-improved performances towards the end of the league, even if they came after relegation was confirmed.
“It was probably a bad start to the year for me [against Donegal] missing the penalty and getting sent off, and I missed a few games due to that. But I worked hard and won my place back and far from wanting the league to be over, by the end of it we wanted to keep going because we were getting stronger.
“Our last two performances against Cork and Mayo proved we really have those sort of performances in us.
“Against Mayo we scored 1-16 against a team who have been up there and contesting All-Irelands in recent years.
“We have built on that and are trying to carry that on into championship.”
Meanwhile, the Monaghan team for Sunday’s game features 13 of those who started their last Allianz FL Division 1 clash against Donegal in April.
Forwards Shane Carey and Owen Duffy are the two inclusions as Fintan Kelly and Daniel McKenna miss out.
Vinny Corey is chosen at centre-back while Darren Hughes will wear the number 14 shirt for the reigning provincial champions.
The Farney Men’s last championship outing was the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone at Croke Park in August.
In all, there are 11 starters common to that side and the team which will take to the field on Sunday.
Dublin have named their team for their Leinster SFC quarter-final against Laois at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, on June 4 (7pm).
DUBLIN (SF v Laois):
Claxton; McMahon, Cooper, Byrne; McCarthy, O’Sullivan, Small; MD Macauley, Fenton; Flynn, Rock, Kilkenny; McManamon, Connolly, Brogan.
MONAGHAN (SF v Down):
R Beggan; C Walshe, D Wylie, R Wylie); D Mone, V Corey, K O’Connell; N McAdam, K Hughes; S Carey, D Malone, R McAnespie; O Duffy, D Hughes, C McManus. Subs: C Forde, C Boyle, F Kelly, K Duffy, D Clerkin, P Finlay, S Gollogly), T Kerr, C McCarthy, D McKenna, J McCarron.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved