Down take the spoils as Derry fail to build on a promising start
Christy Ring Cup round 2B: Derry 1-15 Down 1-18
The stakes were high for both sides at Owenbeg on Saturday afternoon - a place in the quarter-final of Christy Ring Cup the prize for the winner, the loser condemned to a battle to avoid demotion to the Rackard Cup for next season.
But on a day when Derry were trying to end a long losing sequence, they failed to build on a promising start that saw Ruairi Convery convert a 16th minute free for a 1-4 to 0-3 lead, Oisin McCloskey having beautifully drilled a low shot to the corner of keeper Stephen Kielt’s net five minutes earlier.
With Darrel McDermott back between the posts, full-back Conor Quinn returning after a long-term injury and Conor McSorley anchoring the defensive strategy from centre half-back, Derry looked well placed to get back to winning ways.
However, Down had other ideas, even though defections and injuries forced them to travel with just 19 fit players. But Mourne manager Michael Johnston was in buoyant mood as he reflected on the manner of the response before half-time and, then, again in the last five minutes of normal time and the four minutes of added-time.
Johnston said: “The players that took the field and the players that came on showed massive character today.
“It was not easy to recuperate after the National League results and the London game, but the beauty of the Christy Ring is that you are not out in the first round. We came to Owenbeg with just 19 players and we were panicking a bit that it might go to extra-time as we had players injured in normal time. We are delighted with the result. Any time you come to Owenbeg and beat Derry by three points, you are happy.
“Today, we were fighting to stay in the Christy Ring. We are still in the competition and there’s a national title to be fought for. We showed character and steel today, so we will see what the draw brings and see where it takes us.”
A visibly dejected Derry boss Tom McLean responded to the comment that it had been a disappointing outcome: “No doubt about that. I’m really disappointed. We had ourselves well geared up for this game today and I honestly thought that this was the day that we were going to do it because the players had trained well all week and they were in the right frame of mind.”
He added: “For a good part of the game, we were in the lead but, in the last five minutes, it slipped away from us."
With 10 minutes of the first-half remaining, Down had cut deeply into the Derry lead, having served early notice that they had good finishers in Danny Toner, Aaron O’Prey and Brook Byers, who brought the score to 1-3 to 0-3 in the 10th minute.
They were also involved in the second-quarter fight back, with Toner, Sheehan from a free, McManus and O’Prey levelling the scores before McManus landed excellent points either side of a long range effort from Tiarnan McCloskey to keep Down 0-9 to 1-5 ahead.
However, Derry did finish the half with a scoring flourish from Convery and Farren that gave the Oak Leafers a one-point interval advantage. At half-time, Johnston told his players “to cut out the mistakes and keep playing the way they were playing”.
For the most part, that was what they did in a half of fluctuating fortunes that saw the sides level five times, with Derry racking up the wides to 15 as Down showed greater composure in front of the posts, with just four wides by the final whistle.
Shane Farren scored his eighth point to put Derry 1-13 to 1-12 ahead in response to a magnificent point from Down full-back Fintan Conway. Again, Derry came back to level at 1-15 each through Sé McGuigan and Ruairi Convery, but the Ards men had the final say in added-time with points from McGrath, Aaron O’Prey and midfielder Scott Nicholson to claim a dramatic victory.
Derry manager Tom McLean bemoaned wasted chances: “In games like that, both teams are going to have their spells of control. Down were not going to lie back and let Derry run all over them. So they had their spell, but we had a good spell after half-time for 20 minutes and that’s when we should have put the game away, but it did not happen.”
While Down can look forward to the next stage with optimism, these are bleak times for hurling in Derry as they now face an uphill battle for Christy Ring Cup survival.
Derry: D McDermott; S Cassidy, C Quinn, S McCullagh; B Quigley, C McSorley, B Óg McGilligan; O McCloskey (1-0), T McCloskey (0-1); A Grant, M McGuigan, G O’Kane; S Farren (0-8, 0-4 frees), R Convery (0-3, 0-2 frees), P Cleary (0-1); Subs: S McGuigan 0-2 for M McGuigan (32), S Cassidy for O’Kane (56); D Foley for A Grant (62); S F Quinn for McSorley (64); Yellow cards: Grant (49), Convery (66)
Down: S Keith; A O’Prey, F Conway 0-1, M McCullough; J McGrath (0-1), C Woods (0-1 '65), C Taggart; S Ennis, S Nicholson (0-1); P Sheahan (0-1 ‘65), D Toner (0-4, 0-2 frees), S Dineen; O McManus (0-4), D Hughes, B Byers (1-1); Subs: C Mageean for Dineen (7); J O’Kane for A O’Prey (35) (0-3); Conor O’Prey (0-1) for Sheehan (53); Yellow cards: Conway (13), McGrath (40)
Referee: C Cunning