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Thursday 22 June 2017

The Mourne identity is lost in mire

Eamonn Burns
Eamonn Burns

Marty Clarke was doing co-commentary for eir Sport as Dublin stormed back to parity with Tyrone last Saturday night, extending their incredible unbeaten run to 31 league and championship games.

The one-time great white hope of Down football was bowled over by the "mental toughness" of Jim Gavin's men; their refusal to be beaten even when being outplayed. How he'd love to witness such similar traits in his native county.

There has been so much media talk about Dublin's run that you'd wonder how so many of the current squad, in their public utterances, seem almost blissfully unaware of its existence.

You can be sure their Down counterparts know all about their starkly different streak, which now extends to 14 consecutive league and championship defeats.

The soaraway Sky Blues haven't lost since their Division 1 reversal to Kerry in Killarney on March 1, 2015.

Nosediving

The nosediving men of Mourne haven't won since victory over Laois on April 5, 2015, a r esult that sealed top-flight promotion.

But they lost the Division 2 final to Roscommon … and their two championship outings that year … and all seven 2016 league ties as they crashed and burned in Division 1 … and their two SFC encounters (by 19 points to Monaghan, then at home to Longford after extra-time) … and now their first two fixtures back in Division 2, by nine points to Fermanagh and six to Clare.

Crisis, what crisis?

This is not the type of horror-show run usually associated with an erstwhile superpower that, lest we forget, has played in an All-Ireland senior football final this decade.

However much you might blame the current beleaguered manager, Eamonn Burns or the fallout from Jim McCorry's 2015 resignation after just one season, it's a sorry mess rendered messier still by talk of player walkouts and this week's Twitter saga over who "liked" or didn't like a certain disparaging tweet.

Down are now lurching somewhere between crisis and farce. Danny Hughes, such a hero of their 2010 All-Ireland run, summed it up on Newstalk's Off The Ball by citing the great teams of the '60s and '90s, then lamenting: "Slowly our legacy as a county is becoming a laughing stock."

Given the perception that Fermanagh and Clare were potential relegation rivals, those opening defeats will serve only to fan the flames. Can Down escape and/or will Burns survive? Unlikely. But the problems afflicting Down run much deeper.

Killer

Their current rut isn't unique but, to pardon the pun, it would take some beating.

We are, of course, ignoring their three McKenna Cup group wins - just as we overlook Dublin's two O'Byrne Cup defeats in the same period. Perfectly justifiable … why let pre-season cold turkey fare get in the way of a killer stat?

Then again, us media folk were happy to include four O'Byrne Cup losses to bolster Westmeath's record of 15 straight defeats, finally ended in January 2015.

They went 598 days without a win; ignore the McKenna Cup and Down have already eclipsed that dubious mark.

The only way is up?

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