Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Down kept to the plan and won

At the end of this breathless, non-stop exhibition of all that can be great about the sport, James McCartan might have been tempted to invoke memories of the role he played in the last thriller between these two which went down as an all-time classic, back in 1994.

Instead, he didn't join in with the reverie, bluntly stating that; "It is hard to judge entertainment when you are standing along the line.

"I am not sure what it looked like.

"(If) It was a decent spectacle, that was great, but I would rather win 1-0 to be honest."

Sure he would. For all the examples we have been served up of atrocious Down defending in their championship defeats of recent years, what he wouldn't give to win an ugly, negative encounter that is considered de rigueur among the coaching cognoscenti of Ulster.

Perhaps like the complacent boxer they just needed a good thump to let them know they were in a fight.

After a spring spent whittling down the tallies of other teams in the National League, they had conceded 1-10 by half-time here and looked to be heading out of the championship, already four points down.

So what changed? We asked the same question when they produced something similar, if not quite as spectacular, against Monaghan in last years' semi-final.

"I just basically asked them to implement what they were told to do before the game, which they didn't do in the first 35 minutes as regards how we wanted to defend," explained McCartan.

"We certainly weren't doing it. Twenty minutes into the first half, I suppose we could have panicked and reached for the subs, and probably rightly so the way things were going, but we decided that we had to just get the original gameplan right and that would give us a chance.

"Thank goodness it did and we held them to five points in the second half, which gave us a chance of winning the game."

After Benny Herron landed an early score in the second half to take Derry's lead to five points, Down hit 2-5 without reply to take utter command.

When they run the tape again through, the four Derry wides in the first five minutes of the second half will encourage them in terms of their character, but alert them that despite holding Derry to five points in the second half they still have much work to do.

Their semi-final will be against Donegal, and asked if this game will stand them in good stead, McCartan replied, "Any Ulster Championship win, everybody is delighted with it but going to play Donegal, is an awesome ask.

"I know we are in a no-lose situation in that nobody expects us to do anything.

"Look, we will go and give it a shot, do our best and see where it takes us."

One man who will not be in contention for a place that day is Dan Gordon, who McCartan revealed yesterday, "Dan Gordon, certainly not, he wished us well by text. Dan's football for 2013 would be doubtful."

Asked who else he might expect back to face the All-Ireland champions, he joked: "I suppose you are looking at Marty Clarke, Caolan Mooney ...

"Danny Hughes will have two more weeks training under his belt and Aidan Carr as well. There will be one or two others pushing."

Derry manager Brian McIver was flummoxed by how well his team had played for the first 40 minutes, yet when the opportunity presented itself to pull clear they did not take it.

A brilliant save by Brendan McVeigh from an Eoin Bradley effort preceded the wastefulness of the beginning of the second half.

Thereafter, Bradley retreated further out the field and became ineffective.

"At the stage where we were five points up, we needed to push on. But we got careless and gave away what I felt were very soft goals.

"Now fair enough, Down will look at them and say they were well-worked, but I would look at them from our point of view as being very soft goals.

"And they turned the match because after that we found it very hard to get back again."

McIver spared nobody in explaining how they conceded the tally of 2-17, an almost unheard-of amount at this level.

"When you give two bad goals like that away, it's just not good enough. This is a young side and the only way to learn is what they were doing there today."

He continued, "That Down side were in an All-Ireland final three years ago, they were in an Ulster final last year. They know how to take knocks and we have to learn about doing the same."

Indeed they will. The Ulster Championship is no kindergarten.

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