GAA Football

Shafts of light for Down but still pointless after two games

Cormac McCartan got on the scoresheet in Newry on Saturday night Picture: Louis McNally
From Brendan Crossan in Newry

Allianz National Football League: Down 0-9 Galway 1-12

IN the intervening years James McCartan has lost none of his dry wit. Standing in the pouring rain outside the Pairc Esler changing rooms, having watched Down suffer a comprehensive defeat to Galway and talking to press reporters he thought were firmly in his rear view.

“I thought I’d seen the last of you all,” he quipped. “I didn’t volunteer for this!”

But volunteer he did. Make no mistake: there is nothing glamorous about the Down gig second time around.

Given their modest starting point entering the new season the Down footballers weren’t realistically expecting to bank any league points in their first two outings against Derry and Galway, but were rather searching for shafts of light.

On Saturday night against the well-drilled and physically imposing Tribesmen, those shafts of light emerged in the third quarter. They came primarily in the form of Barry O’Hagan and Liam Kerr.

For roughly 12 minutes after the restart, the pair unpicked the Galway lock to devastating effect and managed to cut the visitors’ commanding eight-point half-time lead by half.

Down threw off the shackles by playing more direct football, and it seemed to unnerve the Galway back-line who up to that point were largely untroubled.

In the 36th minute, O’Hagan caught Cormac McCartan’s long ball to convert a ‘mark’ before Kerr twice broke through the centre of the pitch to find the in-form Clonduff attacker with brilliant kick passes.

With the first, O’Hagan popped over another ‘mark’ but it was his next score from play that roused the home support, collecting Kerr’s angled pass and thumping confidently over to move within four points of Galway [1-7 to 0-6].

McCartan’s men managed to hold their visitors scoreless for 19 minutes – between the 35th and 56th minutes – but you sensed their purple patch would be just that before Galway got the scoreboard moving again.

And they duly did through former Antrim forward Owen Gallagher, who has re-invigorated Pádraic Joyce’s half-forward line this season after moving out west several years ago where he studied to become a doctor.

Between the 56th minute to the finish, Galway upped the gears and outscored their hosts 0-5 to 0-3 with Shane Walsh converting four frees to ease Galway over the line.

“Probably the first half was where we lost it,” McCartan admitted.

“We challenged the boys at half-time and they came out, they gave us a bit of a spell, a purple patch after half-time. But we were very disappointed with our first half.”

Galway’s attacking method was more functional than enterprising, but very efficient nonetheless.

Their corner-forwards got chalk on their boots which strung out the Down defence, leaving sweeper Niall McParland to cover serious acreage in front of his full-back line.

Paul Conroy had the easiest of tasks in rippling Down’s net from close range on six minutes to open the scoring after Walsh’s pace created the chance.

Conroy landed two monster scores from 45 metres to ram home Galway’s early advantage and Glenavy man Gallagher pinched his first of two points on 21 minutes.

Down struggled on their own kick-outs throughout while Barry O’Hagan and Andrew Gilmore (free) put up some resistance on the scoreboard in the first half.

Caolan Mooney and Kerr tried to punch holes in the Galway defence with their pace but couldn’t find many openings, and to compound the home side’s early woes Damien Comer was added to the Tribe attack before half-time.

Everything was desperately hard-earned from a Down perspective with full-back Finn McElroy, McParland and Anthony Doherty doing their utmost to contain the Connacht men.

And there was always that exciting Kerr-O’Hagan axis that stirred the home support after half-time.

“We tried to move the ball quickly in the second half,” McCartan added.

“It worked well for 10 or 15 minutes, but not enough.”

Undoubtedly, the early fixtures could have been kinder to the Mournemen as McCartan gets to grips with the sizeable job in front of him.

“You wouldn’t have picked going to Owenbeg and Galway, who will be looking for silverware this year,” he said.

“You could argue Galway are a Division One team. We scored six points the last day - we got it up to nine today so maybe our graph is going up a wee bit!

“It is unforgiving and it is the way football is. It is played in a different way than I remember at times. The blanket defences are a bit alien to me and I’m having to learn quickly. I prefer the ‘good old days’ but, unfortunately, we’ve moved on.”

The two-week break is coming at a good time for the Down boss as they ponder travelling to Meath on February 20.

As for Galway, they’ll be targeting a quick return to the top flight this spring.

“It’s our own fault we’re in Division Two and it’s something we’re trying to focus on to get out of the division,” said boss Pádraig Joyce.

“Listen, we’re by no means anywhere near it. We targeted to win two of the first three games and we’ve done that. It gives the lads a bit of confidence and puts a bit of swagger back into their game.”

Down: G McMahon; P Fegan, F McElroy, B McArdle; R McCormack, N McParland, D O’Hagan; A Doherty, O Murdock; C Mooney, L Kerr, C McCartan (0-1); B O’Hagan (0-5, 0-2 marks, 0-1 free), K McKernan, A Gilmore (0-3 frees) Subs: C Poland for D O’Hagan (53), P Havern for K McKernan (55), J McCartan for C Mooney (58), C Francis for R McCormick (65), T Close for N McParland (67)

Yellow card: J McCartan (70)

Galway: C Flaherty; K Molloy, S Kelly, J McGrath; Hugh, J Daly, C McDaid; P Kelly, M Tierney; O Gallagher (0-1), R Finnerty (0-1), F O Laoi; S Walsh (0-4 frees), P Conroy (1-2), T Culhane (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark) Subs: D Comer (0-2, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free) for R Finnerty (30), P Kelly for F O Laoi (45), T Gill for C McDaid (53), C Sweeney for T Culhane (58), D Conneely for P Kelly (68)

Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)

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GAA Football