GAA Football

Down captain Darren O'Hagan hoping for Ulster title over Super Eights place

Down's Darren O'Hagan keeps an eye on Armagh forward Jamie Clarke in the Ulster SFC clash of 2017.
Pic Philip Walsh

DOWN captain Darren O’Hagan admits he would take another chance in an Ulster Final over involvement in the Super Eights.

Certain counties have already set their sights on being involved in those expanded All-Ireland quarter-finals but the Clonduff clubman would love to end the Mournemen’s quarter-century long wait for a provincial triumph.

Offered a hypothetical ‘guarantee’ of the last two in Ulster or the last eight of the All-Ireland series, O’Hagan replied: “I think I would take another shot at an Ulster Final, that has to be our first goal.

“Yes, everybody wants to get to the Super Eights and be playing football in late July, early August, but the first goal for anybody is Ulster Championship.

“Two Ulster Finals I’ve played in and we’ve got heavily beaten in the two of them. Hopefully we can get there sometime in the near future.”

O’Hagan rejects the suggestion that Down’s desire to end their Ulster SFC drought piles pressure onto the current panel:

“No. Yes, there are people throughout the county who want to see Down winning and expect to see Down to be winning Ulster titles and All-Irelands – but football has changed and teams get their turns.

“Paddy [Tally] has come in and he’s building a new team. Hopefully a couple of years down the line that’s what he’ll be pushing Down towards, getting an Ulster Championship.”

Of course, O’Hagan is looking no further than their Ulster opener, against arch-rivals Armagh. The Orchardmen have their own provincial burden to shift, winless since 2014, but that is not a factor for the Down skipper:

“I didn’t even know that Armagh hadn’t won in Ulster [under manager Kieran McGeeney]. All we can do is look after ourselves and prepare as best we can to go out and beat Armagh.”

O’Hagan knows that is easier said than done, pointing out: “They have a serious forward line, even from midfield up, big Niall Grimley is turning into a quare player. Their six forwards can play anywhere too, that’s a good thing about them. But we have good defenders who can do jobs on them, it’s up to us to curtail them as much as we can.”

Boss Tally has a reputation for playing defensive, counter-attacking football, but O’Hagan insists: “We always try to go on the front foot – if you don’t score, you don’t win too many matches. Your defence can only hold out for so long, you need to be doing the business at the other end of the field.

“Armagh are coming to Newry, they’re coming to our pitch, so we’ll be going full throttle at them.”

Tally seems to be trying to fast-track an improvement in Down’s fortunes, and O’Hagan approves of the large injection of new blood:

“It’s important that you blood a couple of players every year, whether that be McKenna Cup, League, or Championship matches, you have to keep freshening the team up, give the younger lads that chance and reward that hunger to play for Down.

“I think it’s 15 debuts Paddy has given this year and you can see these boys in training and challenge games turning into established county players already, they really, really want to be putting on that Down jersey.

“It’s given us a new lease of life with so many young players coming in, in training and the changing room, a bit of craic. That’s very important for a squad.”

Down came close to going up from Division Three, before losing at home to Louth, but O’Hagan insisted: “We never even looked at promotion, to tell you the truth, but it did come down to the last game. It was disappointing not to get promotion when it was in our hands, especially with the match being in Newry too.

“We were sick for a couple of weeks, there’s no point saying we weren’t, but we’ve reviewed it, looked over the things we need to work on – and there’s no better thing to inspire you than Armagh coming to Newry”.

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