Doc’s day as Down look out of place in Division Three

Ceilum Doherty stars as Mournemen continue their relentless march towards the second tier

Down's Daniel Guinness and Sligo's Alan McLaughlin in action during the Allianz Football Division Three game between Down and Sligo at Páirc Esler, Newry.
Down's Daniel Guinness and Sligo's Alan McLaughlin in action during the Allianz Football Division Three game between Down and Sligo at Páirc Esler, Newry.
Allianz Football League Division Three, round five
Down 2-17 Sligo 1-8

DOWN right now would remind you of a student so far ahead of their peers that they just need moved up a class.

There’s no stimulation for them in Division Three. Five wins from five, they never really broke sweat to overcome a Sligo team who still have promotion hopes of their own.

A team that has come to lean heavily on Odhran Murdock to produce the big moments in big games, his absence with a quad strain made no dent on the Mourne performance whatsoever.

Murdock had a scan during the week and while he didn’t take any active part in the warm-up, he was stripped and could have came on had they needed him.

They were so far from needing him.

The gap between them and a Sligo team that played Sam Maguire football last summer was reflected by the 12-point winning margin.

Kilcoo duo Ryan McEvoy and Ceilum Doherty wore three and four respectively. They both produced superb performances that were very different.

McEvoy dealt really well with Sean Carrabine, who in fairness still carried the Sligo flame and plugged away, while Doherty’s athleticism shone through on a sunny afternoon in a happy Newry.

Twice in the first 15 minutes he found himself at full-forward, popping off to Pierce Laverty and Ryan Johnston in moves that finished with a score.

Doherty drifted inside again after 24 minutes and won a mark from which he scored himself.

Midway through the second period, he drove at the Sligo defence and drew a free from which Pat Havern kicked one of his eight points for the afternoon.

It was fitting that the afternoon’s scoring was completed by Doherty in stoppage time, pushing Down on to 2-17 for the afternoon.

They had run out over the top of Sligo. The combination of pace and directness on the break with their ability to mix up their attacking play left the black shirts chasing shadows all over the place.

Having fallen asleep badly against Offaly, they allowed Sligo a smaller revival to come from 1-6 to 0-1 down and kick four of the next five scores. Better, but not perfect.

The job wasn’t quite done at 1-8 to 0-5 going in at half-time, but when James Guinness straightened up and played a one-two with Conor Francis for the second goal four minutes after the restart, there was plenty of time to relax thereafter.

The Guinness brothers both had a decent first, particularly Daniel, who stood like a boulder in front of the stand towards the end of the half as two separate momentum-advantaged assailants bounced off him without so much as knocking him out of his stride.

His shot bounced an almighty crack off the underside of the crossbar when he might have put the game to bed even sooner than James did.

Sligo came down and almost snatched their own goal off a short kickout that went wrong, but Ryan McEvoy plunged at the right boot of Niall Murphy to block before Peter Fegan got away with one for touching the loose ball on the ground inside the small square.

No penalty for Sligo but they’d only be clutching at straws over it, which Tony McEntee had no interest in.

“I think that Down team is strong and well ahead of us today. They were very impressive in many parts of the game and dominated all but maybe two or three of our battles,” said the Sligo boss from half an hour out the road from Pairc Esler.

“We didn’t play as well as we’d have liked but that’s not taking away from them, they were very good and very strong. Very comfortable, actually.

“The chastening experience here was the tackling and pressure and aggression Down had was significantly more than what we brought to the game.

“We were passive in so many areas of the field. That passiveness led us to appear less fit, to appear less strong, in many ways incapable of incompetent in so many areas of the field. I don’t think the reality is that, I think we’re better than we showed out here.”

Down coach Ciaran Meenagh was happy with their side’s performance that leaves them within a single point of promotion but knowing that defeat in both of their last two games would almost certainly see them miss out.

Their healthy score difference is of virtually no consequence as they prepare to face second-placed Westmeath and third-placed Clare.

If Down were beaten in the two games, head-to-head record would come for them and they’d stay where they are, regardless of how easy it’s been so far.

“To win five in a row is still a good achievement and winning’s a habit. When you’re winning games and you get into that groove, because Down over several years now have lost an awful lot of games.

“I think there was a two-year spell where they might only have won two games, if it was even that, in the entire two-year period. That’s a big thing in terms of confidence.

“I’d be happy enough they’re winning games. If they’re winning games and getting out of the division, hopefully we can kick on beyond that into championship.”

They’re more than ready to graduate. Any sort of pass in either of the last two exams will do.

Down J O’Hare (0-1 45); P Fegan, R McEvoy (0-1), C Doherty (1-2, 0-1 mark); M Rooney, R Magill, P Laverty; J Flynn, R Johnston, P Havern (0-7, 0-6 frees); C Mooney, L Kerr (0-1), D Guinness (0-2); D Magill (0-1), J Guinness (1-1)
Subs C Francis for Mooney (29), O Savage (0-1) for J Guinness (46), G McKibben for R Johnston (61), F McElroy for R Magill (65), G Collins for Kerr (67)
Sligo A Devaney; P McNamara, E McGuinness; L Towey; B Cox, D Cummins, N Mullen (0-1); C Lally (0-1), E Lyons, P Kilcoyne; A McLaughlin (0-1), D Conlon, P O’Connor (0-1); S Carrabine (0-4, 0-2 frees), N Murphy (0-1 free)
Subs L Deignan for Conlon (HT), C Mulligan for Towey (46), D O’Boyle for Murphy (58), M Gordon for Mullen (58), K Cawley for O’Connor (68)
Referee B Tiernan (Dublin)