Down secure McKenna Cup semi-final spot after win against Donegal
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section A, Round 2: Down 2-14 Donegal 1-10
From Andy Watters at Pairc Esler
IT'S only January, so let's not get carried away but the early signs for Down are promising.
The Mournemen made it two out of two under Conor Laverty yesterday and, after their win in Monaghan last Wednesday night, this was another Division One scalp (albeit not at Division One strength) for them.
There is a confidence and purpose about Down; their tackling looks sharper and the way they ran the ball out of defence and took their scores in the first half augurs well for their Division Three prospects.
The League begins with a trip to Tipperary on January 28 and a McKenna Cup semi-final next weekend will help bridge that gap.
“Morale-boosting is a good way to describe it,” said assistant-manager Mickey Donnelly.
“We have three weeks' now leading into Tipperary and it's brilliant to have another game to get us ready for that. Today was good but we're not getting carried away after two McKenna Cup games.”
Down used 26 players yesterday and left out their goal-scorers from the trip to Monaghan.
Among their best performers was Pat Havern, muscular and mobile at full-forward, and the pace and finishing power of Liam Kerr will cause headaches for defences this season.
“It's a very competitive environment,” Donnelly added.
“We used 26 players on Wednesday and 26 today and over the course of the two games we've used 35 lads. We're going to have to trim the squad before the start of the League and that'll be difficult but that's where you want to be.”
As for Donegal, yesterday was their first outing of the post-Michael Murphy era under Paddy Carr. Beaten, yes, but the new Tir Chonaill boss will have plenty to be optimistic about – his side recovered from a sluggish start and might have had another couple of goals and there is no lack of talent coming through like Johnny McGroddy who scored an eye-catching debut point. The challenge for Carr and his backroom team is to get the best out of it.
“They're disappointed in the dressingroom,” said Carr afterwards.
“They're disappointed in themselves because they know there's more there but every team has to make a start and that's what we did today. What I got out of it is that there's a lot of work to be done in terms of joined-up play and we could be a bit more assertive out there in the tackle and we're working hard in terms of the quality of ball we need to put in. All of that is forming what we're doing in the background at the moment.”
Six minutes' into Carr's first game as manager, Donegal were 1-2 to no-score behind. Niall Donnelly opened the scoring for Down with less than two minutes' gone and after he had played the assist for a Barry O'Hagan point, Liam Kerr took Danny Magill's pass and rifled a low shot past Donegal goalkeeper Michael Lynch.
So far, so bad for the new Donegal boss but things were soon looking up.
New skipper Ciaran Thompson split the Down posts and although Havern replied Donegal gave a glimpse of what they are capable of when London-based Stephen McMenamin made inroads down the right and passed to Jamie Brennan. He fisted to the far post where Daire O'Baoill had a simple tap-in.
Brennan almost had a goal himself a minute later but Conor Francis nipped in to clear the danger and a Down break ended with Havern's second of the day.
Brennan replied for Donegal to leave it 1-4 to 1-2 after 11 entertaining minutes and McBrearty's point left the minimum in it by the 13th.
Havern jinked right then left to complete a first quarter hat-trick but two from McBrearty left it all-square and then Patrick Branagan – given licence to get forward from wing-back like Francis on the left flank - edged Down ahead once again.
And they stayed there. Eamon Brown nipped in bravely to win a loose ball and O'Hagan swept the free his clubmate had earned over the bar and then Conor Fitzpatrick played in Francis who picked his spot past Lynch for Down's second goal.
Havern turned provider for Francis who fisted his second score and then Kerr found Havern who scored his fourth, and best, point of the half from the left wing.
Donegal replied through frees from Brennan and McBrearty but Down led 2-9 to 1-7 at the interval.
Nineteen scores represented one every two minutes in the first period so the second half was a disappointment in comparison.
Kerr opened the scoring after five minutes but there were regular wides and constant substitutions as benches on both sides emptied.
Donegal were unable to close the gap but they might have done so had referee Margaret Farrelly played advantage when Conor O'Donnell burst through on the Down goal. She didn't and all Donegal got was a McBrearty free.
Havern hooked over his fifth, McGroddy marked his Donegal senior debut with a fine score and Mark Walsh and Tom Close raised white flags for Down.
Donegal hadn't come to Newry to lose and their frustration was evident in the closing stages. McMenamin left his mark on Michael Ireland and Gary McFadden was booked in injury time.
Carr won't mind seeing that bit of fire but Down took the win.
It's two out of two for them and you can't ask for more but it's only January so keep those feet on the ground Down fans…
Down: J O'Hare; P Fegan, R McEvoy, P Laverty; P Branagan (0-1), N McParland, C Francis (1-1); N Donnelly (0-1), O McCabe; D Magill, L Kerr (1-1), C Fitzpatrick; B O'Hagan (0-2, 0-1 free), P Havern (0-5), E Brown
Subs: C Poland for Brown (28), P McCarthy for Fegan (40), M Walsh (0-1) for Magill (40), T Close (0-1) for McCabe (45), M Rooney for McEvoy (45), R Mason for Kerr (56), D McAleenan for O'Hagan (56), A Doherty (0-1 45) for Branagan (56), M Ireland for Havern (61), S Doran for Donnelly (67), D McClements for Poland (69)
Black card: C Fitzpatrick (42), Yellow card: Walsh (62)
Donegal: M Lynch; S McMenamin, B McCole, J Grant; C McColgan, C Ward, J McKelvey; R O'Donnell, D Mac Giolla Bhride; L McGlynn, C Thompson (0-1), C O'Donnell; J Brennan (0-2, 0-1 free), P McBrearty (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark), D O'Baoill (1-0)
Subs: R McFadden for R O'Donnell (30), J McSharry for McGlynn (HT), JB Walsh for Thompson (HT), M Curran for McKelvey (HT), B O'Donnell for Mac Giolla Bhride (45), JR Molloy for McColgan (45), C Barrett (0-1) for Brennan (45), M O'Reilly for B O'Donnell (56), H O'Donnell for C O'Donnell (59), J McGroddy (0-1) for O'Baoill (59)
Yellow card: Curran (70)
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan)