DOWN ace Caolan Mooney rated their Ulster Championship win over Antrim on Saturday night as a “six or six-and-a-half out of 10” – but says a similar performance against semi-final opponents Donegal in 12 days’ time won’t be good enough.
The Mournemen got relegated to Division Three this season after struggling to put scores on the board. Although they racked up 13 wides against Antrim, their shot selection was better, particularly against a heavily fortified visiting defence.
“I’d give us a six or a six-and-a-half,” said Mooney, who was withdrawn in the 56th minute after a bout of illness in the lead-up to Saturday’s game.
“I think there’s good improvement in us but in the first Championship match you just don’t know how you’re going to go. It was the same with the Armagh game last year – we didn’t know what way we were going to go and we put a performance in and we got through to the final.
“We put up 1-18 up against Antrim but in the National League we were putting up between 11 and 13 points per game and we were leaving a load of wides behind us, so it was good to get a high enough score. We knew if we performed we would maybe have too much firepower for Antrim.”
Down had eight different scorers from play against Antrim, with Mooney bagging one and missing with three other shots.
“We knew we’d a job to do and we did that for about 60 minutes. We took the foot off the pedal a bit and let Antrim get a few scores. But if we do that the next day against Donegal we’ll be paying for it. So we’ll go away and work on those things. But, for 60 minutes, I thought we dominated the game.”
Mooney revealed the Down players weren’t surprised by Antrim’s defensive tactics, particularly in the first half – and credited trainer and former Antrim boss Gearoid Adams for his inside knowledge on their opponents.
“With Gearoid there, he told us what was going to happen,” said the Rostrevor man.
“I know the game might have seemed it was over at half-time but we knew Antrim were going to come and press us at the start of the second half and we had to be aware of that. I think we closed that out in the first 15 minutes of the second half and Antrim’s heads dropped a wee bit until we let them back in it.”
Mooney broke Antrim’s defensive lines in impressive fashion at times during Saturday’s seven-point victory, but manager Eamonn Burns revealed afterwards he wasn’t 100 per cent fit.
“We took Caolan off because he had a bug on Thursday and he wasn’t eating all. So we knew if we got to the stage near the end of the game where we could take him out, which we did. We took Connaire [Harrison] and Donal [O’Hare] off as precautionary measures.”
Kilcoo’s Ryan Johnston was an unused substitute on Saturday night but should be 100 per cent fit for the Donegal clash.
Meanwhile, Johnston’s club-mate Darragh O’Hanlon is still a long way a return to action due to a back injury.
“Darragh’s been very sore and off work and has trouble sleeping,” said Burns.
“He’s had a hard old time of it over the last couple of weeks. He’s made a bit of progress. He was here during the week with us and the physio did some work on him but it’s just a slow process.”