Senior 'B' consolation
February 28, 2002
With Athlone ending their interests in the senior football championship, The Downs had to be content with a senior 'B' championship title last season. Experienced defender Joe Corroon admits that it was another year in which expectations were not met.
Twenty-one years have now elapsed since The Downs last scaled the summit of the county senior football championship. In recent seasons, they have threatened to make a breakthrough but a combination of inexperience and down right bad luck has left them frustrated.
Last year, The Downs emerged from a fiercely competitive championship group, only to lose to Athlone in the quarter-final. The Shannonsiders were 0-17 to 1-7 winners but the scoreline didn't do justice to The Downs' efforts. Indeed, had Athlone goalkeeper Richie Daly not been in such inspired form, The Downs might have won.
"We are still haunted by that game," admits stalwart centre back Joe Corroon.
"The Athlone goalkeeper had a great game but I thought we made him look good at times. Had we taken our points instead of going for goals, it might have been a different story. Maybe with a bit more experience, our forward line would have put some of those chances away."
While the Flanagan Cup continues to prove elusive, The Downs' recent record in the senior 'B' championship is highly impressive and last year they regained the title at the expense of Castledaly.
"We always seem to be there or thereabouts in the senior 'B' championship. Last year we won the championship again with a very young team. Obviously, it's not the same as winning the senior championship but we'll take whatever success we can," Corroon says.
The senior 'B' championship final took place at Rochfortbridge in early June and it resulted in a 1-8 to 1-4 triumph for the black and ambers. Castledaly had just won the delayed 2000 final a few weeks earlier and were hopeful of retaining the title but The Downs had other ideas and a solid first half performance propelled them to victory.
Pat Leavy and team captain Enda Feeney scored early points for The Downs but they were rocked back on their heels when Michael Duffy goaled for Castledaly in the 12th minute. The Downs, however, came storming back with points from Conor Carley, Keith Shanley, Paul Shanley and a goal from Darragh Ayres giving them a deserved 1-6 to 1-0 lead at the interval.
The Downs could have put the game beyond their south county opponents three minutes after the restart but Castledaly goalkeeper Willie Glynn produced a wonderful double save to deny Carley and Leavy. Twenty minutes later, Glynn saved a penalty from Keith Shanley but by then, The Downs were still comfortably in front.
Castledaly registered two late points to leave just a goal separating the sides before Conor Carley made victory safe for The Downs who were more convincing winners than the scoreline suggested.
Of course, success in the senior championship is what The Downs sought most. Their opening game against reigning champions Mullingar Shamrocks ended in a 0-11 to 1-8 draw. Another draw, 0-15 to 1-12, was achieved against Kilbeggan Shamrocks, although that was a game The Downs had expected to win.
The black and ambers were in a commanding position at half-time, leading by 0-11 to 0-5. But an Emmet Dalton goal brought Kilbeggan back into contention. The underdogs continued to pile on the pressure and it's quite possible that they would have collected both points had Ciaran McCormack not kept out a Mattie McCormack penalty in the dying stages.
The bad fortune which has dogged The Downs in recent seasons reared its ugly head again against Tyrrellspass in round three. First half goals from Shane Deering and Sean Loughlin had given Paddy Walsh's charges a 2-3 to 1-4 lead at the break and with Barry Conroy, Noel Molloy and Tommy Cleary adding points, they were still two ahead with time almost up. But in a dramatic finale, Martin Flanagan earned Tyrrellspass a penalty which John Corcoran coolly dispatched to the net, leaving The Downs' losers on a 2-9 to 3-7 scoreline.
Two weeks later, The Downs finally secured their first win at the expense of neighbours Coralstown/Kinnegad. This was a crucial victory for the black and ambers as it kept their qualification hopes alive. David Flynn rifled home an early goal for Coralstown/Kinnegad but at half-time, The Downs had edged into a 0-6 to 1-2 lead.
A Darren Fox goal put the team in red and white in front shortly after the restart but The Downs regained their composure and a great goal by Sean Loughlin in the 14th minute helped to turn the tide in their favour. Coralstown/Kinnegad rallied in the closing minutes but The Downs held on for a 1-15 to 2-9 victory.
A 0-14 to 0-7 triumph over Moate All-Whites earned The Downs a place in the quarter-final. With Darren Devine in superb form at right half back and Seanie O'Leary snuffing out the threat of Ger Heavin, the black and ambers led by 0-6 to 0-4 at the half-way stage.
The Downs upped the tempo considerably in the second half and with James and Barry Conroy, Noel Molloy and Sean Loughlin all chipping in with scores, they ran out comfortable winners.
The Downs' championship ambitions were ended for another year by Athlone at Cusack Park on September 2. This game is remembered for the brilliance of Athlone custodian Richie Daly who made four sensational saves to deny The Downs attack.
The black and ambers led by 0-3 to 0-2 after eight minutes but by half-time, Athlone had established a 0-9 to 0-3 advantage. Points from Darren Devine, Tommy Cleary and Barry Conroy left just a goal between the sides after nine minutes of the second half but Athlone quickly regained the upperhand to open up a 0-15 to 0-6 lead.
Cleary finally beat Daly from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute but the goal came too late to save The Downs from defeat.
"The manner in which we went out was very disappointing," Corroon recalls.
"I felt that we were still on a high after beating Moate and our minds weren't completely focused. We had only opened our new clubhouse a few weeks earlier and we would love to have won the championship in the year that was in it. But it wasn't to be," he adds.
After four years at the helm, Paddy Walsh has stepped down as manager, being replaced by another former player, Tommy Kelly. Last year's county minor manager Des Doolin has taken over the training duties from Ray Smyth who is instead concentrating on managing the St. Oliver Plunkett's senior hurling team.
While optimistic that The Downs can emerge from a group that includes Castledaly, St. Loman's, Tyrrellspass, Athlone and Moate All-Whites, Corroon notes that the absence of four key defenders will make it extremely difficult for the black and ambers to win the championship.
"It's another tough group but I'd fully expect us to finish in the top three. What concerns most, though, is that we have lost Seanie O'Leary, Darren Devine (both in Australia), Martin Murtagh (in London) and Stephen Cleary (in Holland) from last year's team.
"Hopefully, we can unearth a few new backs before the championship, otherwise we're going to struggle."
One of the county's most respected players, Corroon played for Laois side The Rock for three years, during which time he won a county intermediate championship medal in 1996, as well as figuring in the 1998 senior final which ended in defeat to Stradbally. He was a member of the Laois senior football panel in 1997 and has also donned the Westmeath jersey at different stages over the past 10 years.
Now just a few months short of his 30th birthday, the Ballyfin-based schoolteacher knows that his chances of garnering a senior championship memento are running out. But he remains hopeful that the day will soon come when The Downs return to the top of the pile.
"Along with Mickey Murtagh, I'd be the oldest player on The Downs team. It just goes to show how young a side we have. We'll keep plugging away and with a bit of luck, we might win a championship before too long."
The Downs team which captured the senior 'B' championship title was: Ian Egerton; Thomas Smyth, Seamus O'Leary, Stephen Cleary; Paul Shanley (0-1), Brendan Murtagh, Mark Leavy; Fergal Fagan, Joseph O'Brien; Conor Carley (0-2), Keith Shanley (0-2), Enda Feeney (0-1); Pat Leavy (0-1), Kieran Carroll (0-1), Darragh Ayres (1-0).
Pairc Mhaolbhuí, the home of The Downs, was officially opened by GAA President Sean McCague last May.
Named after local man Kevin Molloy, the new ground was developed at a cost of £400,000 and is, without doubt, one of the finest GAA venues in the county. Despite the attraction of televised matches on the day of the opening, a huge crowd was present to witness what was an historic event. The blessing of the new facilities was performed by Monsignor Eamonn Marron, Kinnegad and the Reverend James Wilson, Killucan.
At the new clubhouse, a plaque was unveiled by Michael Nolan in memory of his late father, Paddy Nolan, who worked tirelessly on behalf of the club. Speeches were made by Sean McCague, county board chairman Seamus Whelan and club chairman Joe Burke, all of whom were fulsome in their praise of the new facilities.
Matt Carley was a very efficient MC, while music was provided by the Connaire family, Padraig Harris, Pat Harris, Jimmy Murray and Bill Geoghegan. Tom Flood provided the music for The Downs senior set dancers and other acts included solo singer Jennifer McNamee and The Downs junior set dancers. Anne Caulfield sung Amhran na bhFiann.
Two football matches were organised to mark the occasion. In the under 16 game, Killucan defeated The Downs but the black and ambers emerged as 2-13 to 1-10 winners over Ballynacargy in the senior game that followed.
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