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Down's long drought is finally over with Derry win


Edging home: Down’s Shay Millar shields the ball during the narrow win over Derry at Pairc Esler yesterday

Edging home: Down’s Shay Millar shields the ball during the narrow win over Derry at Pairc Esler yesterday

Edging home: Down’s Shay Millar shields the ball during the narrow win over Derry at Pairc Esler yesterday

The long wait for a Down inter-county win, stretching back to the Division Two National League victory over Laois on the first weekend of April 2015, is over.

They edged home here against Derry in a nervous finish, made all the more surprising as they were remarkably sharp looking for long periods of this game.

The first few moments were lit up by Down's full-forward Barry O'Hagan who, in his second year at this level, is beginning to look comfortable. He had two points over the bar before the first minute was out, both coming from impressive distance on the loop around.

Alan Davidson, scorer of 1-4 last week against Queen's and formerly of Irish League soccer with Newry City, Glenavon and Ballymena, had the third point on the board with an effortless chip.

Davidson, who only took up Gaelic football a couple of seasons ago with the Bredagh club, hit six points in total over the first half, his striking frees from the ground a pleasure to watch.

His manager, Eamonn Burns, appeared almost at pains to spread the praise through the panel when asked his view on Davidson's contribution.

"Alan has played well. He has played well with his club - they won the county Championship at Intermediate level," he said.

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"He gives you an extra dimension up front and he is scoring at the minute, which is also a bonus."

Derry found themselves 0-6 to 0-1 down after 12 minutes, but their revival was pushed along by four consecutive points, Ryan Bell kick-starting it with an effort from distance, before landing an accurate pass on the chest of Niall Loughlin, who turned instantly to point.

Benny Heron kept Derry in touch with four points struck from frees and despite not appearing as sharp as the hosts, surprisingly found themselves just one point behind at the break, Down 0-9, Derry 0-8.

Despite flinging on a few old stagers such as James Kielt, Enda Lynn and Mark Lynch and taking the lead briefly at the start of the second half, Derry looked comparatively sluggish.

In the coming months, they will have Daniel Heavron, Oisin Duffy, Ciaran McFaul and Cailean O'Boyle all to come back into the fray.

Niall Toner will return from his St Mary's duties and they will get the Slaughtneil contingent of the McKaigue brothers, Brendan Rogers and whoever else takes his fancy.

They also have a good chance of making it to the semi-finals of this competition if they can run up a bit of a winning tally on Wednesday in Owenbeg against Queen's, as the best-placed second team out of the groups.

But, the day belonged to Down.

"We got turned over in the final third a few times and this level can be very ruthless," was the assessment of Derry manager Barton.

"It is not good enough and that's just the reality. We put ourselves in a position to draw or even get something more out of the game but kicked a couple of poor wides.

"Again, not good enough at this level, but at this time of year, maybe that is what this competition is all about."

If Down can avoid defeat against Armagh in the Athletic Grounds on Wednesday night, they will progress to the weekend's semi-final.

DOWN: M Cunningham; R McAleenan, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; D McKibbon, C McGovern, B McArdle; P Turley, J Flynn 0-1; S Millar, C Maginn, J Murphy 0-1; A Davidson 0-9, 7f, B O'Hagan 0-3, P Havern

Subs: A Carr for Turley (44), C Mooney 0-1, for McKibbon (47), D Savage for Havern (57), R Mallon for Millar (61), G Collins for D O'Hagan (65)

DERRY: T Mallon; R Murphy, O Duffin, C McGrogan; N Forester, C Nevin, P Hagan; P Kearney, A McLaughlin; G O'Neill, R Bell 0-3, C McWilliams 0-1; N Loughlin 0-1, E McGuckin 0-1, B Heron 0-4f

Subs: J Kielt 0-1f, for Kearney, E Lynn 0-1 for O'Neill (both half-time), C Mullan for Duffin, M Warnock for Hagan (47), M Lynch 0-2, 1f for McLaughlin (52), C McAtamney for McGuckin (61)

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