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Donnelly hails O'Hagan as returning star fires Down into Ulster final

REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** EDITORIAL USE ONLY All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Group 2, Walsh Park, Waterford 17/7/2021 Waterford vs Down Down's Paula O'Hagan Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
SÉAMAS McALEENAN

IT isn't often that both managers in an Ulster semi-final are fairly happy with their team's performance, but that seemed to be the case for Down's Paul Donnelly and Derry's Martin Coulter after an exciting game was decided late in extra-time by a point from Paula O'Hagan.

O'Hagan had her first start for the team since she returned to the panel and top-scored with 1-6. Donnelly felt that she was a key component in the 1-14 to 1-13 win.

“Paula had a baby at the start of the year and she was back at county training within eight weeks. On Sunday she started and played the full game, more than 80 minutes. She put in a solid performance throughout and was there to get the key scores," he said.

“I also want to say that it is the sign of a good team that we were behind for a lot of the game, but still kept working hard for each other.

“Because everyone, especially the two subs, put in a big shift and worked that hard, we got the scores to see us through. And it was that work-rate that stood to us.

“I know we have a bit of work to do on our shooting from around the D. It wasn't great today. We created a lot of scoring chances, but didn't take enough of them. Some days you have to give your opponent credit for their effort and how well they pressurised us.”

When asked to comment on the fact that top-scorer Niamh Mallon had been held to a single point that came from a free, Donnelly was philosophical.

“Yes, that is very unusual. There are days she will score 2-11 and then ones like today. But look at the work Niamh does off the ball. She wasn't out of the game completely and she was there to set up Paula's goal.

“But, as I already said, everyone's hard work got us over the line today and we have an Ulster final ahead of us now because we worked so hard for each other.”

Former Ballygalget and Down hurler Martin Coulter took over the reins in Derry at the start of the year. After an indifferent league campaign during which he was missing a number of players, this was Derry's first game in six weeks and they rose to the challenge.

"I think we should be happy enough with how we played. I don't think there was any difference between the two teams. The fact that it went to a late point in extra time tells you that,” said Coulter.

"The difference probably came down to decision-making, some from the players and some from the referee. But we competed at this level. We just couldn't make it over the line."

Coulter knew that the Down goal was a turning point.

"Yeah, we went a couple of points up with about five minutes remaining and you are thinking that we could win this if we stop them scoring a goal. Down though are an experienced team and their most experienced players created the goal. We maybe showed a bit of inexperience at that point, to be honest. But I wouldn't fault anyone today. They played really well.

"Down are four or five years down the road and have survived a season in the senior All-Ireland and also Division One whereas we are just three of four months working with the girls and we would be happy enough overall with our game."

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