Down's dreadful season depending on qualifiers to salvage pride
Published 23/06/2016 | 02:30
In one of his first interviews after being appointed Down manager last November, Eamonn Burns made a remark which has an ironic resonance as he prepares to take his team into Qualifier action against Longford.
"You must make sure the back door is closed," he said.
He was speaking in the context of setting up a team to cope with the requirements of top-level football in an age when, he argued, the game is built largely around defence.
"You work from there, that's your starting position," he said before adding that the successful Down teams on which he played (All-Ireland winners 1991-1994) also worked on getting quick ball to the attack so as to bring their flair players into the action.
Whatever about systems, Burns is mighty pleased that the other 'back door' - the All-Ireland qualifiers - still remain open, offering Down the chance to rescue something from what has been a dismal season.
They are seeking their first league or championship win of the season on Saturday and since they also lost their only two championship games last year, as well as the Division 2 final, it leaves them without a meaningful victory since beating Laois almost 15 months ago.
Down's problems this year have combined the worst of defensive woes with an attacking power failure of calamitous proportions.
They scored an average of just over nine points per game as they spiralled out of Division 1, while their average giveaway was 18 points. It got even worse in the championship when they were hit for 2-22 by Monaghan, while scoring 0-9 on a day when Down's appetite for battle was rightly questioned after their final-quarter capitulation.
Down's decline is part of a progressive slump since coming so close to winning the 2010 All-Ireland title.
They lost to Cork by a point but once the initial disappointment subsided, hopes of a progressive future soared in Mourne territory.
However, since then they have won only three of 10 Ulster games and only seven of 19 provincial and All-Ireland championship ties.