Tally takes it on chin as Down's new boys falter
It may be viewed as a showcase for new talent but this Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup fixture at Pairc Esler, Newry yesterday underlined the role that more mature players can fulfil in the push for success.
Donegal's 30-year-old war-horse Martin McElhinney, who played just three games last year, lifted the man of the match award after highlighting a stellar 1-17 to 0-10 win with four points, Martin O'Reilly confirmed that he still has much to offer and Hugh McFadden wielded considerable authority in the middle third of the pitch as Declan Bonner's side proved a dominant force for the most part.
Nor was it only the golden oldies from the north west who thrived.
Paul Devlin infused fresh impetus into the Down attack when he was sent on at half-time and the Johnston brothers Jerome and Ryan showed their stylish touches, but Brendan McArdle was forced to limp out of the action far too early although his replacement Conor McGrady potted two points and helped convince manager Paddy Tally that his rebuilding process is very much a work in progress.
Tally maintained: "We made mistakes during the game but you are not going to learn how new players adapt to the level if they are not given a chance. We are building towards the league and there were a number of changes in the team from that which played Cavan and we still have more guys to come in.
"I've been given the responsibility to rebuild the Down team and you're going to have some bad days. You do have to do without a lot of experience, and in the McKenna Cup situation you have to bring them in. Last week we started with 13 players who weren't involved in the Championship last year and in this game another 13 with two or three making their debuts. That's part of the process.
"A lot of young players went out and got exposed a bit but unless you put them out there, how are you going to know?
"It has been a valuable lesson that way. Obviously we have experienced players to come back in and we hope to have them shortly, but in the meantime we have to look at what we have."
Despite the promptings of the impressive Conor Francis and the composure of Pat Havern at full-forward, Down still trailed by 0-9 to 0-3 at half-time by which stage McElhinney, Jamie Brennan and Michael Langan had cemented their marksmanship while Eamonn Doherty and Brendan McCole ensured that the Mournemen were allowed little scope when they tried to break forward.
Not for the first time, the new hand-pass ruled proved a source of frustration, never more so from Down's view than when McGrady's 18th-minute goal was ruled out because of over-indulgence in hand-passing.
"It was very annoying indeed to be denied a goal that on another day would have been a good score," insisted Tally.
Donegal remained in the driving seat in the second half, putting their seal on a commendable performance when Caolan McGonigle flicked in their goal in the 61st minute of the tie.
Down's resilience and spirit helped to keep them in contention but there was never any doubt that Donegal would edge closer to a semi-final place.
But manager Bonner, a trenchant critic of the new playing rules, believes his side still has much work to do.
A number of vastly experienced players including Paddy McBrearty, who is recovering from injury, along with Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Shaun Patton and Michael Murphy will be brought back for the league although it may be several weeks before McBrearty is in action.
"Paddy is recovering well but it might be some time yet before he is back in the side. We have to look and see what we have and take things from there," stated Bonner. "I am reasonably happy with back-to-back wins but it's only the first Sunday in January and there is a long way to go."
Down: J Parr; S Annett, R Wells, R McAleenan; G Collins, B McArdle, R Johnston 0-1; A McClements, D McCarthy; R Mason, C Poland, C Francis; J Johnston, P Havern 0-2, C Harney 0-1. Subs: C McGrady 0-2 for McArdle (10 mins), P Devlin 0-3 (f) for Mason (h/t), D McClements for Harney (h/t), C Quinn for Havern (49), E McCabe 0-1 for A McClements (52).
Donegal: M A McGinley; C Ward, B McCole, C Morrison; E McHugh, E Doherty, P Mogan 0-1; H McFadden 0-1, M McElhinney 0-4; C Thompson 0-1, N O'Donnell 0-3, C McGonigle 1-1; M O'Reilly 0-1, M Langan 0-2 (2f), J Brennan 0-2. Subs: J McGee for Thompson (40), P Brennan for McHugh (42), L Connor for J Brennan (48), O Gallen 0-1 for O'Reilly (57), P Dolan for Mogan (63).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).