Conroy eager to push on
30 April 2011
At the end of the 2009 campaign, The Downs breathed a sigh of relief when they narrowly avoided relegation to the intermediate ranks. However, to their credit, the black and ambers regrouped and put in some sterling performances last year that saw them reach the county semi-final.
Long-serving player Barry Conroy admits to 'Maroon & White' that it was a huge turnaround in fortunes and he feels that the relegation playoff win over Bunbrosna the previous year was the kick in the 'butt' that the side needed.
The Downs were crowned senior champions on two occasions in the noughties when they lifted the title in 2003 and '05 with Barry leading the side to glory in the latter year. Nonetheless, just four short years later and this famous club were on the brink of relegation, but survived by the skin of their teeth.
"I really do think that having come so close to relegation was a wake up call to us all and we just decided to knuckle down for last year's campaign. We knew that if we did that and worked hard, we could do well in the championship," admitted Barry.
The 31-year-old also points to last year's manager Johnny Murray having played a pivotal role in reversing their fortunes as he made the players believe in themselves once again.
"Johnny was very good in that respect and he got us all believing that we could do well in the championship. We knew we had to regroup and to be fair all the lads gave a great commitment last year."
The draw for the 2010 senior football championship saw The Downs in the same group as Castledaly, St Malachy's Tyrrellspass, Mullingar Shamrocks and defending champions Garrycastle.
The campaign looked to be getting off to a flyer as The Downs took on Castledaly and were cruising to victory by half-time, but a lack of concentration allowed the South Westmeath side back into the match and earn a share of the spoils on a scoreline of 3-5 to 1-11.
Veteran Tommy Cleary topped the scoring on this evening with an impressive 1-4, but The Downs were left to rue a wasted opportunity to get off to a winning start.
"We let Castledaly back into that game when we shouldn't have. We were eight points up at one stage, but the important thing was that we hadn't lost the game and it gave us confidence."
The black and ambers suffered the first of their two defeats in the group stages in their next outing against Garrycastle. Despite the closeness of the exchanges, the standard of play didn't rise above the mediocre, but there were occasional flashes of inspirational play - goalie Ciaran McCormack and wing back Jack Hogan caught the eye on The Downs side with some timely clearances.
They were full value for their 1-4 to 0-4 lead at half time as Luke Folan stroked home penalty just before the break, but Garrycastle's experience came to the fore in the second half as they upped the tempo and kicked some fine scores to run out winners by 2-12 to 1-7.
Barry points to the third match of the campaign as the most pivotal one of their season as they faced Tyrrellspass in a match that both sides needed to win to keep their qualification hopes alive.
All the way through, it was tit-for-tat and no one could have predicted the outcome right up until six minutes from the end when a wonder goal by Barry secured a memorable win for The Downs by the narrowest of margins (1-8 to 0-10).
Barry led by example on the day by scoring 1-3, while Tommy Cleary, Brendan Murtagh, John Smyth and Mark Dalton all impressed on the day. "That was the big game for us, it effectively knocked Tyrrellspass out of the championship and it made us realise that we could beat some of the big teams."
Despite, the morale-boosting win against Tyrrellspass, a second loss of the campaign was soon around the corner as Mullingar Shamrocks inflicted a 0-14 to 0-7 defeat on The Downs, leaving them needing a win over St Malachy's in their last group game to ensure a place in the knockout stages was guaranteed.
As it transpired, Murray's charges put in an excellent performance and some of the scores got were of the highest quality as no fewer than eleven players got on the scoresheet during the 0-23 to 0-7 win.
"The Malachy's game was just one of those games that everything seemed to go right for us and no matter who took a shot it seemed to go over the bar, you get days like that, just not often enough," joked the midfielder.
A quarter-final meeting with Tubberclair awaited The Downs and once again they were impressive as they clocked up 0-15 in response to their opponents 1-8. And so for the penultimate stage of the championship and yet another tussle with old rivals Mullingar Shamrocks.
"We had a huge amount of work done ahead of the semi final and even though they had beaten us in the group stages, we were confident that we could beat them."
An intriguing aspect of this local derby was that two O'Leary brothers, Cian (Shamrocks) and Sean (The Downs), and three Smyth brothers Aonghus and Lorcan (Shamrocks) and John (The Downs), played on opposing sides, with the latter player's father Ray wearing the Shamrocks' Bainisteoir bib, having performed the same role with great success for The Downs in the last decade. However, it was Cian O'Leary who stole the show with his two goals, both scored from close range, in the 18th and 40th minutes, effectively securing the green and whites' passage into a Flanagan Cup showdown with holders Garrycastle.
It was a cruel blow for the rural club as the goals just came at the wrong time, but Barry believes that progress was made and that they had to take the positives from the campaign.
"It was definitely a good year for us, given the way the season before went, so there are plenty of positives to take from the campaign. It is a fairly young team with only four of us over 30, while the majority are in or around the 23-24 bracket, while we have a number of players coming through the underage also."
The draw for the 2011 SFC sees The Downs in a tough group alongside Mullingar Shamrocks, Garrycastle, Bunbrosna, Maryland and Athlone. Barry feels that with the same attitude as last year then they should have no fears.
"It is an interesting group to say the least, but we know that we can beat any of them on our day, so we will be hoping to push on. Time is running out for some of us with regards to winning another championship!"