James McCartan admits tough roads await Down
Down 1-11 Monaghan 0-14: Down manager James McCartan may not have gained much solace from the McKenna Cup but the liberal measure of spirit, character and frenetic work-rate offered by his side yesterday in salvaging an early Allianz League Division Two point could prove a portent of better things to come.
In overturning a seven-point deficit to gain parity of esteem by the time referee Cormac Reilly sounded the full-time whistle, the Mourne outfit underlined that while technical aspects of their play remain suspect, their resolve and hunger are very much intact.
McCartan, though, does not pull his punches in acknowledging that a difficult road lies ahead.
"Our first half performance in this game against Monaghan was the worst in my time. That was hugely disappointing and at half time we threw the gauntlet down to the boys and thank goodness they responded.
"It was a relief to get a point but Division Two is going to be a dog-fight no matter what way you look at it," insists the Down boss.
Impressive performances from Ryan Mallon in midfield and Darragh O'Hanlon as a link between defence and attack now offer McCartan enhanced selection options, while Jerome Johnston and Donal O'Hare provided further evidence of their polished finishing skills.
Paul Finlay's aerial authority underpinned Monaghan's emphatic dominance of the first quarter as he kept his attack in almost perpetual motion with incisive through passes allied with his ability spread the play.
By the 17th minute the visitors had streaked into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead with the enterprising Jack McCarron having already stamped his authority on the proceedings with three well-taken points, while Thomas Kerr contributed a brace and Finlay was also on target.
Indeed, Monaghan would not have been flattered had they also snapped up two goals during this lucrative spell, Down goalkeeper Shane Harrison pulling off a fine save from Chris McGuinness.
Points from Jerome Johnston and O'Hare kept the hosts in contention but even though these scores were complemented by a superb long-range point from a free by O'Hanlon, Down yielded ground in the lead up to the interval when points from McCarron and McGuinness thrust Monaghan into a 0-10 to 0-4 lead.
The notion that Monaghan would engage cruise control was fermented after McCarron flighted over two points on the resumption but when Conor Maginn stabbed home the only goal of the game in the 41st minute, he signalled Down's recovery mission.
With Aidan Carr a driving force from the heart of the defence, Mallon showing a voracious appetite for the ball, Mark Poland contributing piercing thrusts and O'Hanlon's support play never less than consummate, Down discovered a swagger.
Conor Garvey, substitute Eoin McCartan and O'Hare swung over points between the 48th and 56th minutes that cemented their team's redemption and even though substitute Conor McManus kept a three-point difference between the sides with his 60th minute effort, the Down bandwagon was rolling.
Jerome Johnston's 66th minute score preceded two fine O'Hare scores from frees that provided McCartan's men with a modest early bonus in the competition.
Down: S Harrison; D McCartan, P Turley, D O'Hagan; R Boyle (0-1), A Carr, C Garvey (0-1); G McArdle, R Mallon; D O'Hanlon (0-1f), M Poland, J Johnston (0-2); D O'Hare (0-4, all frees), N Madine, C Maginn. Subs: R Johnston (0-1) for McArdle (20 mins), E McCartan (0-1) for Madine (53), D Savage for J Johnston (66).
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1f); F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, D Mone, C Boyle; G Doogan, P Finlay (0-1); P Keenan, S Gollogly, T Kerr (0-2, 0-1f); J McCarron (0-7, 0-6f) C McGuinness (0-1), D Malone. Subs: C McManus (0-2, 0-1f) for McGuinness (41 mins), K Duffy for Mone (48), V Corey for D Wylie (53), K Hughes for Gollogly (56), E Lennon for Kerr (67).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).