Debut joy for Liam Kerr as Down get off to winning start against Fermanagh
Dr McKenna Cup Section B: Fermanagh 0-7 Down 1-11
THERE is little to get excited about in this weird no man’s land between Christmas and New Year as the constant calorie abuse takes its toll, one day bleeding indistinguishably into the next.
For the hardy souls who made the long trip from the Mourne County to Enniskillen yesterday, though, there was cause for some festive cheer after the performance of Liam Kerr and a handful of other Down prospects.
In an otherwise forgettable season opener, Kerr came off the bench just before half-time to lift the spirits that had sagged with each series of lateral hand-passes.
There was an audible gasp when, 10 minutes in, Down captain Darren O’Hagan galloped forward 15 yards rather than offloading. Who is this maverick?!
The green-eyed monster made an appearance too. At the break, the scores from the other Dr McKenna Cup games were called out over the tannoy, with an envious groan sweeping through the stand at word of Armagh’s high-scoring clash with Cavan.
A goal and 21 points had been served up at Kingspan Breffni Park by that stage, compared with the meagre seven Down and Fermanagh had mustered.
Four days after Christmas, and with several new faces getting their chance to impress on both sides, it would have been foolish to expect much else – and it was Kerr’s man-of-the-match winning cameo that got people talking.
He slotted over a nice point before half-time and looked fresh and fit as he glided through a sea of green with eight minutes left before exchanging passes with Pierce Laverty and slotting over.
The best was saved for last too when the outstanding moment of the afternoon came in the 70th minute.
Darren O’Hagan pumped a long crossfield ball towards brother Barry who, running backwards, did brilliantly to take the sting out of the pass and palm into the path of Daniel Guinness.
The Carryduff man headed towards the square and laid off to Kerr, who didn’t break stride before clipping over Fermanagh ’keeper James McGrath and into the net.
“Liam’s been playing very well for Burren, he’s still young, he was still with the U20s last year but he’s been showing the last couple of years the potential to play well,” said boss Paddy Tally, whose side face Antrim next on Wednesday, January 8.
“That was his senior debut and it’s a lovely way to start; Liam’s an exciting player and one for the future. We have to manage these lads well and make sure that they’re brought in at the right time and today was a great opportunity for a young fella to go out there and play.
“Liam Middleton did well, Ross Carr made his debut, Shane Annett, John O’Hare in goals, Ross McGarry hasn’t played for Down in a number of years so there was a lot of positives to come out of that game.”
There was some concern when Caolan Mooney was replaced before half-time, but Tally insisted his departure was purely precautionary.
“He was a wee bit stiff.
“Caolan’s just come back so we were trying to get a half out of him, and it worked out he nearly got that. He just tightened up a wee bit.”
The opening 20 minutes of yesterday’s encounter were as pedestrian as you are likely to see, peak McKenna Cup, but inside that time came one of the big talking points of the day when an Owen McCabe score from an attacking mark was ruled out.
He took a wonderful catch on the edge of the square after a raking ball in for O’Hagan, only for referee Conor Dourneen to hop the ball instead after ruling that O’Hagan had been inside the 45 metre line when he sent the ball in.
Both Tally and Fermanagh boss Ryan McMenamin, taking charge of his first game as Erne boss, can see trouble ahead.
“I thought the referee didn’t actually know at times as well,” said Tally.
“I spoke to the officials at half-time, and they’re saying about how it’s going to be policed later on - a player sitting inside doesn’t know whether the ball’s kicked from outside the 45, inside the 45…
“Owen thought the ball was caught on the mark, the referee blew the whistle and stopped the game, and then hopped the ball. If Owen had been told to play on he’d have played on, but by the referee blowing the whistle he stopped thinking he had won the mark.
“It’s difficult and I have sympathy for the officials to try and monitor this thing. In principle it’s a good rule, I like the inside mark and it rewards a player for a clean catch, but how you police that through the rest of the year is going to be very difficult.”
“The player had actually kicked inside the 45, so there you have it in a nutshell,” added McMenamin.
“It's messed up really at county level. I don't know what it is going to be like at club level, I think it could be carnage.”
The three-time All-Ireland winner with Tyrone saw his side start the game in controlled fashion, with Down struggling to create a single scoring opportunity – bar McCabe’s disallowed effort – inside the opening 20 minutes.
But Fermanagh were sloppy in front of the posts, racking up 11 wides and dropping four short, leaving the door open for Down to take control as the second half wore on.
With their Division Two opener in Kildare a month away, McMenamin – whose men face Antrim in Ahoghill next Sunday - admitted there is work to be done to get the Ernemen up to speed before the real stuff begins.
He said: “We probably started back later than the other counties and are a wee bit behind.
“We tried to find a few players and we might have had six or seven boys making their debuts so look, you had a lot of young boys in there. You needed to give them a go and this is the time of the year for it.
“I thought maybe old failings came back. We controlled the game for the first 20, 25 minutes and should have been more in front, should have had four of five scores on the board and we couldn't get it.
“But it was the first game. I think maybe the boys battled well and it's one of those things. You have to dust yourselves off.
“Fermanagh always have to hit a peak in the League, all the teams have to hit a peak in the league. But we have another three or four weeks to go to get a few more miles in the legs. McKenna Cup is the McKenna Cup and the focus is always on the first round against Kildare and that is the way it will remain.”
Fermanagh: J McGrath; J Cassidy, B Daly, K McDonnell; E Sheils, D McCusker, A Breen; E Donnelly, R Jones (0-1); T Bogue, S McGullion, D McGurn (0-2); G Jones (0-1, free), C Jones (0-3, frees), B Horan. Subs: L Jones for Bogue (18), C Cullen for Sheils (43), C Corrigan for G Jones (48), Shane McGullion for Horan (52), N Cosgrove for Stephen McGullion (65)
Black card: Stephen McGullion (28)
Yellow cards: T Bogue (6), E Donnelly (25), L Jones (51)
Red card: R Jones (70+5)
Down: J O’Hare; R McAleenan, B McArdle, G Collins; P Laverty, D O’Hagan, S Annett; J Flynn (0-1), C Mooney; O McCabe, C Gallagher, C Poland (0-1); D Guinness, P Havern (0-3, 0-1 free), R McGarry (0-1, free). Subs: L Kerr (1-3, 0-1 free) for Gallagher (18), L Middleton (0-1) for Mooney (35+2), C Harney for McGarry (50), R Carr (0-1) for Annett (52), B O’Hagan for Havern (54),
Blood sub: B O’Hagan for O McCabe (25, blood sub - reversed 29)
Yellow cards: J Flynn (14), O McCabe (25)
Ref: C Dourneen (Cavan)