Wednesday 13 December 2017

Down facing mass walkout as players lose faith in management

Burns: Poor start to league. Photo: Sportsfile
Burns: Poor start to league. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

Down's season threatens to go from bad to worse, with a number of players understood to be considering walking away from Eamonn Burns' squad, following a number of walkouts last week.

The Mourne county are already in turmoil after losing their opening two National League fixtures, to Fermanagh by nine points and Clare by six; they are bottom of Division 2 with an in-form Meath coming next to Newry.

After the Clare defeat, a number of Kilcoo players did not travel home on the team bus and there is rumour that their actions could be met with punishment.

This follows Thursday night's training session where a player-walkout followed the announcement of the team to play in Ennis.

Turmoil within teams is not unusual, but mid-season heaves are rare. However, it appears that the feeling in Down could be strong enough that stormy days lie ahead for the playing panel, management and county board.

Already, Damian Turley - brother of vice-captain Peter - Ryan Mallon and Gary McMahon have departed the panel, citing dissatisfaction with the management team.

It is understood that the Kilcoo contingent have already consulted with their club manager Paul McIver on whether to remain with the county, with McIver urging them to stay.

The defeat in Ennis also brought an embarrassing scene at half-time with a county board member witnessed having an argument with members of the management team.

Afterwards, while the Clare team went into a huddle on the pitch, the Down players could not be convinced to do the same, making for the dressing-rooms.

The loss on Sunday made it 14 straight defeats for Down in League and Championship, since they beat Laois in a Division 2 fixture on April 5, 2015.

That win brought them back to the top flight under Jim McCorry. However, after that, they lost the Division 2 final to Roscommon, before bowing out of the Ulster Championship with a narrow defeat to Derry, followed by a qualifiers exit to Wexford.

In the ensuing fall-out, the Down county executive recommended to the county board that McCorry and his management team should be voted out. McCorry survived the vote by delegates, but subsequently departed anyway, lamenting the lack of support from the executive.

Despite having plenty of time to choose McCorry's successor, the board only appointed Eamonn Burns on November 5 - without having a backroom team in place.

Since then, Down have gone through arguably their worst run of results, failing to win a single game in Division 1 last year and ending up with the worst scoring difference in all four leagues on minus 60.

In the Ulster Championship, Down slumped to a record defeat in Clones at the hands of Monaghan.

There has also been disquiet among the panel at the treatment of respected players.

Conor Laverty was not recalled after captaining the side in 2015. Mark Poland, considered one of the better forwards in the province, has yet to make a match-day panel of 26. Niall Madine has not been brought back despite showing good form for Queen's in the McKenna Cup.

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