The fear of losing is invariably always greater than the desire to win particularly in a Championship context.
Seldom has this been more forcibly underlined than at Ballybofey yesterday where what should have been an expansive, adventurous contest given the number of experienced players from both sides who were in action instead proved to be an error-ridden tie saddled for the most part with negativity.
If the respective attributes of Donegal’s Michael Murphy and
Down’s prodigal son Martin Clarke coupled with the perceived porous nature of both defences tended to dominate pre-match debate it was in fact the latter deficiency that set the tone for the game.
Down’s preoccupation with double-marking Michael Murphy thus allowing debutant Dermot Molloy to enjoy unexpected freedom for Donegal almost proved a fatal flaw for James McCartan’s side. Yet even though they enjoyed that early dual goal tonic Donegal’s subsequent tendency to permit Down players such as Daniel Hughes, Martin Clarke (pictured) and man-of-the-match Benny Coulter to exploit space unopposed ultimately contributed to their downfall.
And if the Down side can bask in reflected glory, then their success was largely orchestrated by the rejuvenated Coulter who led by splendid example with his powerful surges and clinical finishing.
It is no coincidence indeed that Coulter’s current rich vein of form is in tandem with Martin Clarke’s growing influence within the side — indeed the question was being asked in the hotels, bars and restaurants of Ballybofey afterwards, just how far can the Coulter-Clarke axis take this Down side?
It may have been his first Ulster Championship match as a manager but James McCartan deserves credit for the manner in which he was prepared to amend his strategy in the second-half — and with lucrative results. The switching of Coulter to the middle third with Dan Gordon going to the edge of the square and the defence looking much more comfortable once the double-marking of Murphy was abandoned certainly underlined McCartan’s tactical prowess.
Down can look forward to meeting Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final but in the realisation that defensive modifications as well as a further improvement in midfield will be required if a place in the Ulster final is to be achieved.