The Downs fade after early promise
30 April 2009
The Downs' form in the early rounds of last year's senior championship suggested that they were serious contenders for the Flanagan Cup, but then it suddenly all went wrong as chairman Peter Shanley ruefully reflects.
Every team has a turning point in their season. For The Downs in 2008, that came when their neighbours Killucan inflicted a first defeat on them in round four of the senior football championship.
The black and ambers had started the championship in impressive fashion, recording three straight wins over newcomers Ballinagore, St. Malachy's and Coralstown/Kinnegad. The comfortable nature of the victories gave the impression that The Downs were shaping up nicely for another title challenge, but the loss to Killucan was a body blow from which they never recovered, and further defeats to St. Loman's and Garrycastle in the quarter-final made for a frustrating end to their campaign.
Long-serving chairman Peter Shanley is at a loss to explain The Downs' sudden loss of form at such a critical stage of the championship, though he suspects that a degree of complacency may have crept into their game.
"It was probably a group that we took for granted," he says.
"On paper, it was the weaker of the two groups and after winning our first three games comfortably enough, we were probably guilty of taking our eye off the ball. Some of the players may have been looking a couple of games ahead when they should have been concentrating on the next game.
"For a long time, we led the group and looked like going straight through to the semi-final. But the defeats to Killucan and Loman's put us into the quarter-final against Garrycastle instead and they beat us by a goal that should never have been given. It came from a sideline ball that shouldn't have been awarded, and we were obviously very sore about that."
At the time of writing, The Downs were due to meet Garrycastle again in a play-off to determine the winners of the All-County League Division 1 title. The Athlone club was originally declared league champions by virtue of their superior scoring difference after the teams finished level on points, but The Downs successfully appealed to Leinster Council on the basis that this was not specified in last year's Planning Report.
Under the guidance once again of Ray Smyth and his selectors Paddy Nolan and Dermot Egerton, The Downs began their championship campaign with a 1-12 to 0-11 victory over Ballinagore at Rochfortbridge. The nine-time senior kingpins opened the scoring through Tommy Cleary before James Durkan levelled for the newcomers. The Downs led 0-3 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter and had stretched their advantage to three points before a Shane Power goal on the stroke of half-time gave them a 1-6 to 0-3 cushion.
Ballinagore resumed with a point from their All-Star nominee Michael Ennis before Cleary and Barry Conroy pushed The Downs seven points clear. Ennis added five frees before the end, while Durkan also had a brace of points from play, but it wasn't enough to stop The Downs running out four-point winners.
A dominant first half display propelled Ray Smyth's charges to a 2-12 to 1-5 victory over St. Malachy's at Cusack Park. The game was as good as over at half-time when goals from Greg Crowley and Noel Molloy had helped The Downs to a commanding 2-9 to 0-1 lead. St. Malachy's rallied in the second half, with Sean Whelan finding the net, but they were still 10 points adrift at the final whistle.
The Downs continued their winning ways against arch-rivals Coralstown/Kinnead. A brace of first half goals from Luke Folan inside the first nine minutes gave them a solid platform, but Kinnegad fought back to trail by just points, 0-6 to 2-3, at half-time. Favoured by the wind in the second half, however, The Downs had surged eight points clear by the three-quarter stage and eventually won by 2-10 to 0-9.
Remarkably, that would prove to be The Downs' last victory in last year's championship. Killucan, who have been a bogey side for them since they rejoined the senior ranks in 2006, started the rot by inflicting a 0-9 to 2-8 defeat on them at Cusack Park on August 26.
Leading 0-4 to 0-1 after 11 minutes and 0-5 to 0-3 at the break, Killucan took a firm grip on proceedings seven minutes into the second half when substitute Danny Riggs scored the opening goal. There was no great response from The Downs and 12 minutes later, Alan Doyle netted from close range to give the underdogs a seven-point lead, and there was no way back for the black and ambers after that.
An improving St. Loman's pipped The Downs for top spot following a 1-8 to 1-7 victory in their final group match. Noel Molloy scored an early goal for the losers before Conradh Reilly netted late in the half to give Loman's a slender 1-4 to 1-3 interval advantage. In the second half, the Mullingar club kept their noses in front to earn a semi-final spot and consign The Downs to a quarter-final clash with Garrycastle.
A controversial Paul Dillon goal midway through the second half proved the decisive score in Garrycastle's 1-10 to 0-10 victory at a damp and miserable Cusack Park. The sides went into the break level on 0-5 each, but Dillon's 44th minute goal gave Garrycastle the breathing space they needed to go on and claim the win.
The Downs' second team had a more productive 2008, reclaiming the senior 'B' title following a thrilling victory over Tyrrellspass. The delayed final, which took place in Loughegar on January 10 last, was decided by a goal from The Downs captain Paul Shanley with eight minutes remaining.
The Downs were lucky to go into the break just a point in arrears, 1-1 to 0-5, after Tyrrellspass had registered seven wides and missed a penalty. Paul Shanley scored the first of his two goals in the 11th minute after his brother Keith's initial effort had been parried away by Tyrrellspass 'keeper Paul McGivney.
Despite playing with a strong wind in the second half, the black and ambers fell further behind when John Corcoran pointed two minutes after the restart. However, two Paul Shanley points, including one from a free in the 45th minute, tied the scores.
But then a goal from substitute Ronan Dunbar looked to have turned the tide in Tyrrellspass' favour. The Downs refused to panic, though, and in the 52nd minute Shanley put them back in front with his second goal and they held on to win 2-4 to 1-6.
While delighted to see the club maintain its proud record in the senior 'B' championship, The Downs chairman is disappointed that more clubs don't show an interest in it.
"It's a pity that a few more of the senior clubs don't take part in it," says Peter, who is Paul and Keith's father.
"We have found it to be a great competition for blooding players. But it's disappointing that a lot of the senior clubs are now opting to enter their second teams in the junior championship instead. You can see why they're doing that - it guarantees their players summer football. You can't be guaranteed that when you're playing in the senior 'B' championship, unfortunately."
Shanley, who is in his seventh year as chairman, is equally proud of The Downs' reputation as one of the strongest Scor units not just in Westmeath, but throughout the country.
"We are our very proud of our Scor section which is spearheaded by Alice Deihy. She has been the driving force behind our many successes in both senior and junior Scor. We are also extremely proud to have hosted Scor finals at county and provincial level down the years, and look forward to hosting many more in the years ahead."
2009 will see the commencement of the next phase of The Downs' ground development which will involve the construction of a seated stand with four dressing rooms underneath. The club is holding a 500 members draw to fund the cost of the development which is estimated to be EUR500,000.
Tickets, which cost EUR240, can be paid in full or with a monthly standing order over a year or in quarter payments of EUR60. Four draws will take place throughout this year, with prizes in excess of EUR25,000.
"We've always got great support from the local community and we're confident that they will come out and support us again with this venture," Peter says.
Shanley is also confident that The Downs can bounce back from last year's senior championship disappointment under their new manager and ex-Longford star Gerry Lynn.
"Most of the lads who won championship medals in 2003 and 2005 are still on board, and I believe there is more in them. We also have a number of promising young players coming through. Ray Smyth had terrific success with us since 2002, but now we have a new man at the helm in Gerry Lynn.
"Gerry was short-listed for the Longford senior job when Glenn Ryan got it last year, so he obviously knows his football. Maybe a different voice and different outlook will make a difference this year. That's what we're hoping for anyway," he concludes.
The Downs' senior 'B' championship winning team was: Brendan Cleary; Fergal Fagan, Sean O'Leary, David McDermott; Vincent Connelly, Jack Hogan, Sean Loughlin; Brian Fitzpatrick, Mark Dalton; Alan Dowdall, Joe Corroon, Declan Lynam; Keith Shanley, Paul Shanley, Shane Power. Subs used: Shane Brogan, Shane Deering and Alan Finch.
The Downs team that lost the SFC quarter-final to Garrycastle was: Ciaran McCormack; Niall Nolan, Mark Dalton, Stephen Cleary; Conor Carley, Sean O'Leary, Sean Loughlin; Greg Crowley, Noel Molloy; Barry Conroy, Luke Folan, Paul Shanley; Tommy Cleary, Brendan Murtagh, Shane Power. Subs used: Jack Hogan, James Conroy and Brian Fitzpatrick.
Under 21 13-a-side honours for The Downs
Runners-up to Mullingar Shamrocks in the 15-a-side final, The Downs went some way towards atoning for that disappointment when they recorded a comfortable 2-13 to 0-9 victory over Castledaly in the delayed 2007 13-a-side final at The Downs on May 11 2008.
The success brought the curtain down on a long drawn-out campaign, which saw the black and ambers contest both the 15- and 13-a-side deciders. They were soundly beaten by a crack Shamrocks side in the 15-a-side final on St. Patrick's Day, but bounced impressively to claim 13-a-side honours almost two months later.
Under the guidance of Johnny Murray, Patrick Nolan, Conor Carley and Barry Conroy, The Downs recorded wins over Milltownpass, Tyrrellspass and Coralstown/Kinnegad en route to the 13-a-side final. At the same time, they beat Athlone by 3-10 to 2-6 and Bunbrosna by 4-6 to 0-6 to set up a meeting with Mullingar Shamrocks in the 15-a-side final.
Sadly for The Downs, they good form they had shown in the earlier rounds deserted them as Shamrocks cruised to a 3-11 to 0-6 win. The opening exchanges were keenly contested but a Ciaran Curley goal at the start of the second quarter had a demoralising affect on the black and ambers, and it was one-way traffic after that as the town side coasted to an easy win.
The Downs didn't have to wait long to get that loss out of their system. A week later, they regained winning ways with a 2-13 to 1-7 defeat of neighbours Coralstown/Kinnegad. Inspired by midfielders Greg Crowley and Luke Folan, The Downs controlled the game from start to finish with AJ Murray's second minute goal sending them on their way. Alan Giles reduced the deficit to the minimum with a brace of points in the sixth and eighth minutes, but that was as close as Coralstown/Kinnegad got to their opponents as they then went through a 14-minute barren spell during which The Downs notched 1-5. Three points by Folan and another from Stephen Devine were followed by a second goal from Folan after 17 minutes. When the impressive Folan brought his tally to 1-4 in the 22nd minute, the black and ambers were 2-5 to 0-2 to the good.
At half-time, The Downs led by 2-6 to 0-3 and Kinnegad's task became even more difficult when they had their centre back Barry Mooney sent off within minutes of the restart. Folan stretched the winners' lead to 10 points before the red and whites enjoyed their more productive spell which yielded points from Alan Giles and a goal from Nigel Boardman.
However, that was the end of the Kinnegad revival as The Downs took control to score three points in as many minutes from Stephen Devine, Luke Folan and Simon O'Donnell. Further scores from Devine, Mark Conroy and Folan made it easy in the end for Johnny Murray's charges.
Whereas the semi-final was played on a damp and dreary day, the final was played in sweltering summer conditions on a surface perfect for football. Despite being forced to field without their injured captain Stephen Devine, The Downs continued where they left off against Coralstown/Kinnegad with another resounding win over Castledaly. The southerners had overcome Bunbrosna by 2-16 to 2-14 after extra-time in their semi-final clash, but they proved no match for the superior home side who were full value for their 2-13 to 0-9 victory.
As in the semi-final, The Downs made a dream start when AJ Murray fisted a goal from Greg Crowley's centre with less than a minute elapsed. That set the tone for the rest of the game as Mark Conroy and Shane Power tagged on two quick points.
Brendan Kelly and Justin Coughlan replied with scores for Castledaly before a brace from Conroy kept the black and ambers firmly in the driving seat.
Castledaly grabbed the next two scores, but with Greg Crowley to the fore, The Downs went on to lead by 1-6 to 0-5 at the break.
Another Coughlan point left just a goal between the sides at the start of the second half and the margin was still the same midway through. But it was then that The Downs really upped the ante with points from Conroy, Power and a marvellous effort from Luke Folan.
His midfield partner Crowley fisted another point before Mark Price set up AJ Murray for his second goal. There was a late exchange of points from Brendan Kelly and Folan, but the game was over as a contest long before referee Sean Sheridan sounded his final whistle.
The Downs' winning under 21 panel was: Brendan Cleary, David McDermott, Niall Nolan, Alan Finch, Carl Ferguson, Jack Hogan, Declan Lynam, Simon O'Donnell, Greg Crowley, Shane Power, Mark Dalton, Stephen Devine (captain), Mark Conroy, Luke Folan, AJ Murray, Mark Price, Mark Keegan, Kevin Monaghan, Brian O'Dowd, Tommy Conneely, Lorcan Caffery and Shane Walsh.