Nothing to get down about
29 February 2008
For many clubs, reaching the quarter final of the senior football championship would rank as a major achievement, but you get the feeling they expect more in The Downs. A club with a proud tradition and a strong sense of ambition, The Downs clearly had bigger plans and the fact that they lost to neighbours and old rivals, Coralstown/Kinnegad, in a match that required a replay and extra-time, made things doubly tough. By Damien Maher.
However, they remain determined to get back to the top of Westmeath football and, this year, will be reacquainted with the man who has twice led the club to glory in 2003 and 2005. Ray Smyth returns as manager for the season ahead, replacing Offaly man, Vincent Henry and with Tommy Cleary now back on the Westmeath senior panel, The Downs might well be a force in this years senior championship.
Club Secretary, Sean Carroll, described 2007 as a mixed bag. "It was up and down really. We lost the first round, won the second, drew the third and won the fourth. After losing the fifth round to Tyrrellspass, it was Killucans draw with St. Malachys that actually put us through to the quarter final," he recalls.
"However, we are looking forward to the year ahead and are hoping to reignite the desire and hunger that took us to two championship successes in the not too distant past. Were keen to get back to the top and, hopefully, Ray Smyth can provide that extra spark," added Carroll, a well known inter county referee.
The Downs senior football championship campaign began when they took on Mullingar Shamrocks in Cusack Park in May. In what was a close encounter, The Downs suffered a two-point reversal (1-7 to 0-8), making the type of start they would surely have hoped to avoid.
It was a game that lacked nothing in terms of intensity and commitment and was level at 0-5 apiece as the teams broke for half time. However, the crucial score was a Cian OLeary goal in the early stages of the second half which enabled the Mullingar side to take a lead they never relinquished. The Downs were dealt a blow late on when Shane Deering, who had only just been introduced, was red-carded, but the losing start was much more of a concern to them.
Round two took The Downs to Rochfortbridge and a meeting with St. Malachys. On a windy day, The Downs made much of the running in the first half and an early goal by wing forward, Sean Loughlin, gave them a commanding lead at half time (1-5 to nil) as St. Malachys failed to register a score.
The second half was always going to be tougher for The Downs, particularly since they played into the teeth of a strong wind, but they dug deep when it mattered and had eight points to spare at the final whistle (1-10 to 0-5).
It was the latest instalment of the most gripping rivalry in Westmeath club football for round three as The Downs took on Killucan in Cusack Park on a Thursday evening. Despite being a week evening fixture, a good-sized crowd turned up in Cusack Park and were treated to a real ding-dong battle which, in the end, finished level at 0-9 apiece.
The exchanges were always closely fought and, with the teams were deadlocked at half time on 0-4 each, the writing was on the wall, so to speak. The Downs should have made more of their dominance at the start of the second half, but they managed to open up just a two-point lead, leaving the door firmly ajar for a Killucan come back. Despite the prominence of Westmeath star, John Smyth, The Downs failed to exact revenge for their loss to Killucan in 2006.
It was back to a Sunday evening setting at Cusack Park for the meeting of The Downs and St. Lomans in the fourth round and, after a closely-contested affair, it was The Downs who emerged victorious on a 1-9 to 1-7 scoreline.
If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it, as The Downs enjoyed a six points lead at half time (1-7 to 1-1), but failed to build on it against a resurgent St. Lomans outfit after the break.
Tommy Cleary showed his class at different times in this match and it was his personal contribution of 1-2 in the first half that helped open up that commanding lead. It seemed as if The Downs were on the way to a comfortable victory when Barry Conroy extended their lead with a fine point in the early stages of the second half, but St. Lomans mounted a comeback, scoring seven points to their opponents one in the last 20 minutes.
The Downs, though, were strong enough to fend off the late drive and deserved their victory.
In the fifth and final round of the group stages, The Downs faced defending county champions, Tyrrellspass. This was a keenly contested affair, but it was Tyrrellspasss extra pace in attack which probably proved the difference as they has three points to spare over The Downs at the final whistle (2-7 to 0-10).
The Downs were well in contention, but lost a player at that stage. The Downs should have been well in control at half time, but they conceded a late goal and were only two points to the good (0-7 to 1-2) as the teams headed for the dressing rooms.
Despite the defeat, The Downs still had done enough to reach the quarter final against neighbours, Coralstown/Kinnegad. They met in Cusack Park in mid-September and proved inseparable, with both sides registering nine points apiece.
The Downs were minus both John Smyth and James Conroy for the game and would have been the more relieved on that basis, but a draw was possibly a fair result on the evening. At half time The Downs were just a point adrift (0-4 to 0-5) and it remained tight as the game progressed.
The replay proved every bit as tight, but even more dramatic as it took extra time to separate the sides. Alas, it was Coralstown/Kinnegad who progressed to the semi-final on a 2-16 to 2-12 scoreline and despite the efforts of Tommy Cleary, who scored an amazing 2-9, The Downs were out of the championship.
The Downs led by 0-6 to 0-3 at half time, but at the end of normal time it was 1-10 apiece and an extra 20 minutes were required. The Downs looked to be on their way to a famous win when Tommy Cleary goaled from the penalty spot in extra-time, but Coralstown/Kinnegad dug deep to grind out a four-point win.
In underage football, The Downs are pleased to have two teams going at under 12 level and the same number at under eight and under 10. At under 14 level they had a fine victory over Tyrrellspass in the Division 1 final, while their minor side reached the Division 2 semi-final, losing to eventual winners, Athlone. Their under 16 side competed well but were less successful.
Outside of football The Downs are ready for further development at their impressive club grounds. A 300-seater stand is in the pipeline, with four new dressing rooms underneath. This is part of a five-year plan and should be complete in early 2009.
The Downs get vital assistance from their main sponsors, Flynns, who have been with them since the mid-80s and theyre grateful to the many others who lent financial support during the year.
This year Peter Shanley is Chairman, Senan McGuire Vice-Chairman, Sean Carroll Secretary, Aiden McGuire Assistant Secretary, Matt Carley Treasurer and Brian Murtagh Development Officer. Other officers include Patrick Doherty (Bar Treasurer), Anthony Rowan (PRO) and Matt Carley (Centre Secretary).
Scor is also a major part of the year in The Downs. This year their Set Dancers reached the Leinster Final in Scor Na nOg in Ballinakill, Co. Laois, where they were unlucky to lose. At Scor Sinsear, The Downs took part in seven acts in Westmeath but success proved elusive.
On St. Patricks Day, the junior Scor members were part of the Mullingar Parade, while the senior Set Dancers performed at half time in the All-Ireland Hurling Club final.
Overall, The Downs remain one of the leading GAA clubs in the county. The Downs side which was defeated by Coralstown/Kinnegad in the senior quarter final was: Ciaran McCormack; Niall Nolan, Seamus OLeary, Steven Cleary; Conor Carley, Jack Hogan, Greg Crowley; Brendan Murtagh, Sean OLeary; Sean Loughlin, Tommy Cleary, Barry Conroy; Stephen Devine, Luke Folan, John Smyth. Subs used: Joe Corroon, Mark Dalton, Shane Deering, James Conroy.