Sunday 17 December 2017

Down's rising - where did it come from?

Down’s transformation is one of the more fascinating stories of Championship 2017. Stock photo: Sportsfile
Down’s transformation is one of the more fascinating stories of Championship 2017. Stock photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Whether it's the start of something really big for Down remains to be seen but after what they had endured for two years makes events over the last six weeks really precious for Eamonn Burns and his beleaguered forces.

Wins over Armagh and Monaghan lifted the grimmest of sieges, ushering in a whole new sense of optimism across the Mournes.

And while Down will start as 5/1 outsiders against Tyrone in Sunday's Ulster final in Clones, their semi-final success, in particular, has sent their confidence levels soaring.

They will be encouraged too by Roscommon's disregard for perceived wisdom in last Sunday's Connacht final where they demolished Galway.

Down's transformation is one of the more fascinating stories of Championship 2017. They entered the Ulster arena as seventh favourites (only Antrim and Fermanagh were behind them) after coming so close to completing a drop from Divisions 1 to 3 in successive seasons.

Indeed, were it not for a spirited final 10 minutes against Cork in early April - during which they snatched a draw in the last series of Division 2 games - they would have dropped into Division 3 after winning only two of their previous 19 league and championship games.

Instead, they took a point which saved them from the drop, having finished ahead of Derry on scoring difference.

The final 10 minutes against Cork may well have been a catalyst for Down's dramatic turnaround, which has now presented them with a chance to end the 23-year wait for the Ulster title.

They won only two of seven games in Division 2 but have been a much different outfit in the championship, leaving supporters to wonder where the sudden burst of compelling form has come from.

Tyrone will have noted it too, especially the manner in which Down held their nerve when Monaghan finished strongly in the semi-final.

Mickey Harte's men are bidding to complete the Ulster double for the fourth time in the county's history.

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