Down out of dark woods and ready for Monaghan clash

Down have emerged from two rough seasons stronger and mentally tougher and they are quite relaxed about their modest billing ahead of Saturday’s Ulster semi-final with Monaghan .

The county endured a torrid spell between April 2015 and February 2017, losing 14 straight league and championship games, but recent results suggest they have found a bit of form.

Snatching a league draw against Cork on the final day kept them in Division Two and they stunned Armagh in Ulster to set up a last-four clash with Monaghan in the Athletic Grounds (7pm).

They are still ranked as big outsiders against Malachy O’Rourke’s 2013 and 2015 Ulster champions, who are bidding to reach the provincial final for the fourth time in five years.

“That’s grand, we are happy to come in under the radar,” insists full-forward Connaire Harrison.

“A lot of the stick Eamonn [Burns] and the team got last year and this year is unfair, but it makes you mentally tougher. It gives you that gee-up you need before going out for a big game, knowing everybody is on your case and putting you down.”

Harrison scored two points in the 0-15 to 2-7 win over Armagh, their first Ulster championship victory over the Orchard County in 25 years.

“A win against the old enemy? We’d take that any day of the week and it was a long time coming.

“It worked into our hands, they were supposed to have this full-forward line that was the next best thing, but we knew our forwards were every bit as good as theirs. We were confident that we would do it. Monaghan obviously will be a big step up again, but we believe we can perform well again.”

Malachy O’Rourke’s side hammered Down by 19 points in last year’s first-round clash at Clones. Harrison knows it is a big gap to claw back.

“Monaghan gave us a bit of a torrid time last year in the championship, but there’ll be no pressure on us. We have that first win under our belts and we are in better shape now than we were last year.”


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