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Down and out

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Down and out thumbnailDown’s Ryan Johnston gets away from Monaghan’s Kieran Duffy at Croke Park. Photograph: Brendan Monaghan.

DOWN manager Eamonn Burns insists that his team is going in the right direction after bowing out of the All-Ireland Championship on Saturday (29 July).

Down...1-16
Monaghan...1-24

A place in the last 12 is a good return for a team that was at such a low ebb only 12 months ago, and Burns believes this season has set the agenda for better times ahead for the Mourne county.

They should have been ahead at the break and Mona ghan's bench made the difference in the second half.

"I think it has come huge distance from where we were," said Burns.

"Coming into the job I knew it wasn't going to be easy.

"We will take a look and see what we have done and where we are going and I'll talk to a few people and let the dust settle. We would like to be coming back here on Saturday, but that is the way it goes but definitely we have made progress but we would like to make more progress.

"There is a panel of players working hard and we will keep trying. When you are trying to develop a panel from whenever we started two years ago, things were difficult and players, for very genuine reasons, were opting out. We were bringing in players that weren't experienced at this level during the league campaigns and that was a very difficult starting point.

"When your back was to the wall you had to draw a breath and make sure in your own mind that you are going in the right direction and we did that.

"We took a huge amount of flack and huge amount of unfair flack. But we faced up to it and this year we approached things differently.

"We improved in all areas both on and off the field. But obviously there is work still to be done and obviously there is talent in Co Down that we need to get to and get into training panels but we definitely be trying." On Saturday the Mourne men looked to have the measure of Monaghan in the opening half and should have been well in front at the break. But Mona ghan's bench made all the difference in the second half, scoring 0-07, as for the second game in the row, Down failed to count in the last 35 minutes.

It was a frustrating day for Down because the long ball into Connaire Harrison was causing the Monaghan defence pandemonium, even if not always fruitful, but it was a strategy they abandoned for most of the second half.

Sean Dornan made his championship debut and he and Harrison won ample ball in the opening period, but Down failed to fully capitalise as the Castlewellan man blazed wide.

Having trailed by two early points Darragh O'Hanlon (free) and a great solo and point from Caolan Mooney eased the Mourne men into the game. Harrison was wrecking havoc as neither of Mona ghan's three different defenders could handle him and his two points should have set the tone.

But Down gave away cheap frees, although referee Maurice Deegan was harsh at times, and a player of Conor McManus' quality lapped it up.

With 10 minutes gone, the sides were level but an O'Hanlon free and two superb points from Harrison seemed to set Down on their way. The Glasdrumman target man was involved again as he set up Burren's Kevin McKernan, but he struck the side netting with his angled shot.

It was a massive blow and McManus punished with three converted frees in a row. But Down were still showing their quality with McKernan and Conor Maginn chipping in with scores.

They were on the right track again but Monaghan countered with Fintan Kelly's goal and followed it up with a point.

But Down weren't done and great work by Maginn set Harrison free and he coolly slotted home.

It was the goal he was threatening but Down were disappointed to be only level (1-09 to 1-09) with Monaghan at half-time.

"I thought at half time we were definitely well in the game," said Burns.

"I thought possibly in the first half we gave the ball back to them too easily and without getting carried away with ourselves, I thought we kept them in the game.

"We started very brightly and had a lot of energy from our inside line and a lot of scores from them and possibly could have had more scores of them.

"I thought we should have definitely been ahead at half time. They got the goal first but we responded very well and had we been a wee bit smarter with the ball then we definitely would have been ahead a half time." McManus and Mooney and then Kieran Hughes and McKernan traded points, but Monaghan pressed home with substitutes Conor McCarthy and Jack McCarron causing Down problems and the Farney men tagged on five unanswered points.

Substitute Jerome Johnston scored a point with his first touch as Down tried to engineer a way back into the game.

The Kilcoo man tagged on another but the game was drifting away as Monaghan kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Harrison had a great chance for a second goal, he did everything right including collecting Mooney's great delivery, but he blazed his shot over and not under the bar.

Down continued to work hard but Jerome's third point and another from substitute, David McKibbin was all they could manage. Burns bemoaned the lack of scores immediately after the break but insisted he his delighted with the effort his squad have put in.

"I thought in our previous games our bench worked really well for us. Today was the first day that perhaps it didn't give us the lift we were expecting to get. On the other foot, the players coming off Monaghan's bench definitely gave them the impetus going forward," said Burns.

"I can't complain about my panel of players because they put in serious effort this year and I am immensely proud of them. Some days that is the way it pans out." And while the Down boss will be expected to stay on for a third term, he wasn't being overly committed in Croke Park.

"I don't know, I'll just have to take stock and see where I am and there are a lot of people I need to speak to, including my own family and my friends and obviously the County Board and different people around me I hold dear and seek their advice at times," Burns said.

"There is plenty of work to be done here and I think there is a panel of players coming together."

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