Tally joy as Kerr seizes chance to make impression in Down's victory
Fermanagh 0-07 Down 1-11
If, for many counties, the purpose of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup is to find new players, then Down fared significantly better in this scrappy encounter in a frigid Brewster Park, where Liam Kerr of Burren came off the bench after 18 minutes as a replacement for Conall Gallagher and scored 1-3.
You can complicate things all you want, but for the first 20 minutes Down did not have a single shot on goal. Not a wide, not an effort dropped short. Both teams had all their men back defending, but Fermanagh looked to be much more organised and forced the Mournemen into several turnovers.
Their problem was converting all their possession. Before Down got off the mark in the 21st minute through Kerr, Fermanagh had only one point to their name, that coming in the fourth minute from play by Ryan Jones. After that, they sent four efforts wide of the posts.
They finished the game with 11 wides and four which dropped short. Other players will come back and an experienced coterie are down with a mixture of illness and slight injuries, but one of the hardest things for a player to do is to stand out in an experimental team.
Down shaded it in this regard. Liam Middleton showed up well around the middle and Kerr finished up as man of the match. When Stephen McGullion was shown a black card and sent to the sin bin on 27 minutes, Down pounced on the numerical advantage to hit three points to establish a 0-4 to 0-1 lead, one that they never looked likely to surrender.
Fermanagh kept pressing but kicked into blocks and sent a host of chances begging. When one effort dropped short as the game wound down, a Darren O'Hagan cross-field ball reached his brother Barry. Rather than take it in, he palmed it cleverly to the free Daniel Guinness who played it into the path of Kerr to lash across the body of James McGrath and into the Fermanagh net.
Down manager Paddy Tally said: "Liam's been playing very well for Burren. He's still young, he was still with the U20s last year but he's been showing the last couple of years the potential to play well.
"That was his senior debut and it's a lovely way to start. Liam's an exciting player and one for the future."
Tally was even more animated by the new rules, with referee Conor Dourneen appearing to signal for a 'mark' in the 11th minute only for him to then throw the ball up.
"I thought the referee didn't actually know at times as well," said Tally.
"I spoke to the officials at half-time, and they're saying about how it's going to be policed later on - a player sitting inside doesn't know whether the ball's kicked from outside the 45, inside the 45…
"The one he called in the first half, Owen (McCabe) thought the ball was caught on the mark, the referee blew the whistle and stopped the game and then hopped the ball.
"If Owen had been told to play on he'd have played on, but by the referee blowing the whistle he stopped and thought he had won the mark.
"It's difficult and I have sympathy for the officials to try and monitor this thing. In principle it's a good rule, I like the inside mark and it rewards a player for a clean catch, but how you police that through the rest of the year is going to be very difficult."
His Fermanagh counterpart Ryan McMenamin can also foresee problems with it.
"The player had actually kicked inside the '45', so there you have it in a nutshell," he smiled.
"It's messed up really at county level. I don't know what it is going to be like at club level, I think it could be carnage.
"You looked at a couple, it made it stop-start and even the black card (sin bin rule), it's not playing time, it's just time, so it pays you to slow the game down."
McMenamin added that the Ernemen started back later than most other counties. Asked why that was, he cracked another rueful joke; "I think we followed the rules!"
FERMANAGH: J McGrath; J Cassidy, B Daly, K McDonnell; E Sheils, D McCusker, A Breen; E Donnelly, R Jones 0-1; T Bogue, Stephen McGullion, D McGurn 0-2; G Jones 0-1f, C Jones 0-3f, B Horan
Subs: L Jones for Bogue (18m), C Cullen for Sheils (43m), C Corrigan for G Jones (48m), Shane McGullion for Horan (52m), N Cosgrove for Stephen McGullion (65m)
DOWN: J O'Hare; R McAleenan, B McArdle, G Collins; P Laverty, D O'Hagan, S Annett; J Flynn 0-1, C Mooney; O McCabe, C Gallagher, C Poland 0-1; D Guinness, P Havern 0-3, 0-1f, R McGarry 0-1f
Subs: L Kerr 1-3, 0-1f for Gallagher (18m), B O'Hagan for McCabe (Blood sub, 27 - 30m), L Middleton 0-1 for Mooney (35m), C Harney for McGarry (50m), R Carr 0-1 for Annett (52m), B O'Hagan for Havern (54m)
Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan).