GAA Football

Advanced mark making life too easy for forwards says Down captain Darren O'Hagan

Down defender Darren O'Hagan admits that whoever wins tomorrow night's clash with Ulster rivals Derry will have a big advantage in the Division Three promotion chase. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

THERE aren’t too many men who relish the art of defending quite as much as Darren O’Hagan, and the Down captain feels too much of an edge has been given to forwards following the introduction of the advanced mark.

Over the last decade the Clonduff man has earned a reputation as one of the tightest man-markers in Ulster, thriving in one on one battles against some of the best forwards in the game.

You could feel O’Hagan’s frustration from the sidelines in Clonmel on Sunday when a Steven O’Brien pass, which can’t have travelled too much more than the required 20 metres, was gratefully accepted by Tipperary team-mate Conor Sweeney.

Having raised his hand, the towering forward – who had already popped over three frees by this stage – made no mistake with the mark to put Tipperary two points up with a quarter of an hour to go.

“Ah, I’m not fussed on it, definitely not,” said O’Hagan after the Mournemen battled back to snatch a point from their Division Three opener.

“I think it’s too easy for a forward. A forward is allowed to catch a ball clean and he’s allowed four steps before you’re allowed to tackle him, or if he puts his hand up he’s allowed a free shot. He’s not really having to work that hard to get a score.

“Sweeney got one there at the end to put them two points up, it was a handy pass, 20 metres across the 45 line and a player like Conor Sweeney’s going to pop it over from that distance all day.

“It’s too easy, and too stop-start.”

That wasn’t the only source of frustration either on a day when Down failed to build on a strong start, finding it hard to unpick the Premier’s packed defence on a heavy pitch in Clonmel.

Saturday night’s clash with Ulster rivals Derry could be a similarly tight affair, with the Oak Leafers determined to kick on from their draw with Leitrim at Celtic Park last weekend.

And O’Hagan admits that whoever comes out on top will have given their hopes of escaping the third tier a huge boost.

“Unless it’s another draw, whatever team comes out with the win, they’re creeping two points ahead,” said the 29-year-old.

“Two points in this division is a lot, you don’t want to be lagging behind teams and relying on other results. You want to be in control of everything that’s going on in front of you, so it’s massive. It’s vital for both of us to get the two points.

“Look at it now after the first round of games, there’s four teams sitting on one point. It’s going to be nip and tuck, there’ll probably be nothing between the teams that go up and the teams that go down.

“All you can do is concentrate on your performance and hope that you’re still in the mix in the last 10-15 minutes to be within a chance of winning a game. That’s the way this division is; you’re never going to go and steamroll a team. You have to stay patient and stay focused.

“You could see towards the end there we probably forced a couple of things and didn’t stay patient. It was a heavy pitch, it’s January at the end of the day, it’s not Croke Park we’re playing on.

“It was our first day out in the League so there’s going to be mistakes… it was frustrating the way they set up very defensive, but fair play to them, they did it well. They made it hard for us. We didn’t come away with nothing, which was important.

“On Saturday it’s on our home patch and hopefully that can help us get the two points.”

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