Donegal leave shocked boss Eamonn Burns feeling down
Down 0-07 Donegal 3-15
Shell-shocked Down manager Eamonn Burns took almost three-quarters of an hour to emerge from the dressing room and talk to reporters. After this 17-point mauling, he looked as if he had needed every minute of it and he wasn't in any particular mood for talking.
Burns began with an understatement: "It could be better. A difficult night for us, back in Division One after a couple of years.
"Donegal are very strong. We thought up to half-time we were well in the game. Two goals after half-time sort of put it beyond our reach."
The truth is that Down were already six points behind Donegal at half-time, 0-9 to 0-3.
Things might have been different if Donal O'Hare had have converted a penalty awarded in the 18th minute. A short kickout from Donegal goalkeeper Peter Boyle put Eamonn O'Doherty in trouble. Ryan Johnston was dribbling the loose ball in close to goal when a lunge by Neil McGee ended up in a black card.
O'Hare put plenty of force behind the penalty kick, but it was at a decent height for Boyle to beat back out. In the next play Arthur McConville put the ball over the bar to leave Down one behind.
From that point on, Donegal assumed control. Five points came from dead balls by Michael Murphy (four, with one particular highlight being a sideline swung over from a narrow angle) and one from Patrick McBrearty.
Six minutes after the break, a piercing run from Ryan McHugh got him behind the Down cover, nipping past Peter Turley. A rash of handpasses in close quarters highlighted the loose Down marking and ended up with McHugh palming home a floated pass from the impressive Ciaran Thompson to the net.
Two minutes later, a high Thompson delivery was fielded by McBrearty who held off marker Darren O'Hagan and planted to the net past Stephen Kane's dive.
Down offered little resistance and McHugh picked up his second goal with eleven minutes left. Michael Murphy raking a crossfield pass to McBrearty, he offloaded to Martin Reilly who in turn set up McHugh for another palmed goal. Donegal scored the last 1-5 of the match unanswered. In the final analysis, Donegal manager Rory Gallagher was willing to concede that it was fairly impressive stuff for January, but added a couple of caveats.
"It was, at times," he began.
"At times in the first half, we had a bit of a cushion, a lot of scores from frees.
"We have to be pleased but to be fair to Down they had a lot of players away to colleges and they have a new management in, they are trying a lot of new things, so we have to be very conscious of that."
This was actually Donegal's first away win in the league since 2009, a curiosity given how their standing in the game has risen since the Jim McGuinness-led revolution in 2011. Gallagher admitted he found that trend strange and that there were enough people in Donegal eager to remind them of it.
However, they will be heartened by the performances of the likes of Michael Carroll, Thompson, Eoin McHugh as the half-forward unit and a panel that appears to have added depth.
Burns is in a very different place as he assesses the damage. The two-time All-Ireland winner said: "I spoke before and said the best teams in Ireland, bar Tyrone, are in this division. We have a young side. But they will learn from that, and they will progress. We have to get them ready for Monaghan."
He was left frustrated at the end at the prospect of a possible suspension for Donal O'Hare, sent off in the 65th minute on a straight red card, claiming the referee said it was for striking, although the media did not catch it.
"He doesn't know why he was sent off," Burns began.
"He said it was for striking, but he didn't strike. There were other things going on before that, maybe the umpires only seen one thing, but he is very annoyed now, the way the situation played out."
With only two scores from play, Down need O'Hare and a lot more before they face Monaghan next weekend.
DOWN: S Kane; D O'Hagan, G McGovern, M Magee; M Hughes, C McGovern 0-1, R Boyle; P Turley, H Brown; J Murphy, M Poland, K McKernan; R Johnston, A McConville 0-2, 1f, D O'Hare 0-4f. Subs: C Harrison for Johnston (28m), N Madine for McConville (38m), M McKay for Turley (48m), S Dornan for Poland (57m)
Yellow cards: Brown (22), O'Hagan (23)
Black cards: Murphy (25m, replaced by D O'Hanlon, C McGovern (56m, replaced by A Carr)
Red cards: O'Hare (65m)
DONEGAL: P Boyle; E O'Doherty, N McGee, P McGrath; M O'Reilly, R McHugh 2-0, A Thompson; M Murphy 0-8, 7f, 1x'sl', C Thompson 0-1; M Carroll, F McGlynn 0-1, E McHugh; H McFadden, O MacNiallais, P McBrearty 1-2, 1f. Subs: S McBrearty for MacNiallais (53m), N Gallagher for Thompson (60m) R Kavanagh for O'Reilly (62m), C McGonagle for McHugh (64m)
Yellow cards: P McBrearty (23m), MacNiallais (45m)
Black cards: N McGee (19m, replaced by E McGee), Carroll (43m, replaced by L McLoone 0-2), E McGee (65m, no replacement allowed)
Red cards: 0
Referee: David Gough (Meath)