Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

McCartan’s men must take frees

James McCartan

As ever, James McCartan was at his slightly mischievous best at the launch of the Ulster senior final last week in the Titanic Building, his demeanour that of the advanced child in class that has his work done before everyone else and now needs fresh stimulus.

He was being pushed on how to best break down the Donegal defence, and if it was a matter of putting ball into Conor Laverty. McCartan replied that Down had already beaten Donegal, Laois and Dublin in the National League, three of the most defence-minded teams.

And naturally, the difference between league and Championship is enormous, and the bookmakers don’t always get it right, but it is known that the 4/1 odds on Down is something they are stung by.

Naturally, McCartan wasn’t going to reveal precisely how they will try to pick through the Donegal defence, but he will be aware of how Tyrone went about their business. Let’s not forget the two half-chances the Red Hands had in that Ulster semi-final for goals and that if either had gone in, the landscape would be much different indeed.

It would seem from Tyrone’s experience, the importance of landing every free and ‘45’ is crucial.

They now realise that poor shooting has cost them in two consecutive Ulster semi-finals. They hit 19 shots inside the ‘45’, and six outside that mark, which is roughly where the Donegal defence will camp out.

In those long-range attempts, Conor Clarke (pictured) and Marty Penrose both managed superb scores in the first half, Down will take note of such a thing.

To best take advantage of that, if Liam Doyle is in anyway fit he needs to start. Doyle has an accurate shot from distance and his free-taking ability from the right side of the field is utterly necessary given how Aidan Carr struggled from that area against Fermanagh from dead ball.

Benny Coulter says that he is fit, and he could be placed in the full-forward line, with licence to get outfield when Down break forward and create a bit of room for himself to pick off points.

Then we have Conor Laverty, who can cause havoc if the right defender is not placed on him.

Given how Jim McGuinness explained the placing of Karl Lacey on Paddy Bradley in the quarter-final being down to their agility and shape matching up, it’s possible Paddy McGrath could be detailed here, especially when you consider how the nimble Laverty tortured Vinnie Corey in the semi.

And the one other weapon? Dan Gordon at full-forward. The only question to ask in this instance is: why not?

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