Red and black rise above Royals

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Red and black rise above Royals thumbnailDarren O’Hagan charges out of defence with the ball, leaving Meath’s Alan Forde in his wake.

CALL it a monkey off the back or turning the corner, but Down were deserved winners against Meath on Saturday night.

Down ...1-13
Meath ...0-14

They were a team that played with vigour and skill and in Pairc Esler they owned the game against the Royals. It wasn't a vintage performance, but it showed the team can make progress.

Rostrevor's Caolan Mooney was magnificent and Meath couldn't live with his soaring pace.

Kilcoo's Darragh O'Hanlon made his first start of the season and he added calmness to the Down defence. Sigerson Cup winner Kevin McKernan also gave the team energy and was always an outlet, while Ballyholland's Joe Murphy again worked his proverbial socks off.

Peter Turley made his first start in midfield and his presence, along with the experienced Aidan Carr, gave Down a strong platform to build on.

Big Brian Sheridan and Down full back Gerard McGovern had a fascinating battle, with the Meath man coming out on top in the first quarter, but thereafter the Burren man had him in his pocket and went a long way to nullifying Meath's goalscoring threat.

Down couldn't have asked for a better start as Ballyholland's Joe Murphy cleverly fisted into the net following Darragh O'Hanlon's dipping free-kick.

It set the tone for what was arguably Down's best 35 minutes over the past two years. And it wasn't outstanding - but the Mourne men played with purpose and when they had a go at the Meath defence, more times than not reaped the rewards.

But Down should have been further ahead. They dropped four shots short and missed a goal chance and that could have been costly.

Meath got off the mark in the fifth minute with Brian Sheridan out-jumping Gerard McGovern and laying off to Donal Lenihan, who tapped over the bar. The same player added another score before Barry O'Hagan replied after scrappy play.

With 19 minutes gone, Down had kicked two efforts wide, as many short and gave away too needless frees, but importantly they stayed on top.

Barry O'Hagan could have bagged a goal but he blazed between the posts after a wonderful delivery from Mooney.

Down packed their defence and sometimes support was lacking or too slow to aid an isolated Barry O'Hagan, but when Mooney, Darren O'Hagan or Shay Millar did break at pace they displayed an ability to cut Meath open.

Meath's James Toher and Darragh O'Hanlon traded points and Conor Maginn punished a sloppy Paddy O'Rourke kick-out with a point, while O'Hanlon converted a difficult free to gave Down a 1-5 to 0-4 lead.

A Barry O'Hagan effort drifted wide and Marc Reid's 45' dropped five metres short, but Down pressed and O'Hanlon pointed after an intelligent patient build up and Ryan Johnston and Aidan Carr added to the tally. Meath did reply with two points, including a spectacular 50-metre strike from Graham Reilly, but Down were full value for their 1-08 to 0-06 lead at the break.

Half-time was cautiously upbeat from Down's perspective and even that was a welcome change.

The second half lacked the fluidity of the first but still Down looked in control, even if the last few minutes tested the wits.

Toher and Conaill McGovern exchanged points, then Lenihan and Carr traded converted frees, but McKernan slipped his a neat point between the posts to extend Down's lead.

Mooney looked to have scored a cracking point but referee Martin McNally called play back and awarded a free. Then substitute Jerome Johnston bagged a great point but Meath were matching Down almost point for point.

Mark Poland replaced Man of the Match Mooney, who received a huge cheer before McKernan notched his second point of the evening.

With time almost up Meath started to close the gap and they almost grabbed an equalising goal in the last minute but Gerard McGovern cleverly forced Lenihan's drilled free over the crossbar.

The final whistle was met with a huge cheer from the Down faithful while there was also relief from the players.

While it was Down's first National League win since April 2015, it wasn't the first they should have won. Last season they should have beaten Monaghan and Mayo in the National League.

Derry's last-minute goal against Kildare on Sunday will give the Oak Leafers confidence ahead of facing Down in Owenbeg this weekend, but a win for either side will decided whether they are in a survival or promotion battle in Division Two.

For Down, Saturday's win can become a starting point, they have had enough sticks to be beaten with over the past few years, so back-to-back wins would be a welcome change - and they have the quality to do so.

Any team that has Mark Poland, Jerome Johnston, Paul Devlin, Benny McArdle, Cathal Magee and Alan Davidson on the bench should be a force to be reckoned with. The best is yet to come from Mooney, O'Hanlon and the Johnston brothers, so it is important that Down build on Saturday's win.

Down play Derry in Owenbeg GAC (Dungiven) on Sunday (5 March) at 2pm.

Down: M Reid; R McAleenan, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; D O'Hanlon (0-04, 3f), C McGovern (0-01), C Mooney; P Turley, A Carr (0-01); K McKernan (0-02), C Maginn (0-01), J Murphy (1-00); S Millar, B O'Hagan (0-02), R Johnston (0-01)

Subs: B McArdle for C McGovern (45), J Johnston (0-01) for O'Hagan (49), M Poland for Mooney (65), P Devlin for R Johnston (68).


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