Devastating Down dismiss a dour Derry

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Devastating Down dismiss a dour Derry thumbnailDown sweeper Kevin McKernan tidies up. 10997c

Allianz National Football League Division 2 Derry ...1-06 Down...1-15 “ONE step at a time now, you could lead me into trap here. I know what you are saying."
When a manager says that, you know he has led his troops trough some difficult times, but Down manager, Eamonn Burns was visibly upbeat even if jokingly cautious after his side swept aside the challenge of Derry on Sunday.
Down had the game won in the opening half with a swashbuckling performance and in the second half they did enough to maintain a healthy winning margin over Derry.
“We are definitely happy with back-to-back wins and our next match is against Kildare. At the minute we will be trying to get a bit of rehab done and then our focus will switch to Kildare and that will be a tough task," said Burns.
Played at Celtic Park on Sunday it was the performance Down fans had been waiting for. For the opening 25 minutes they oozed class, confidence and played champagne football and it was a joy to watch.
Clonduff's Barry O'Hagan lined out as the sole full forward and he was in devastating form, but the class of delivery into him was unquestionably the best from Down over the past three years.
With 12 seconds gone O'Hagan had Down off the mark and it was clear they were confident. Caolan Mooney powered through the middle to grab his first score of the afternoon and for the next two minutes, shadowed Derry's Enda Lynn weaving through the pitch. He was only catching his breath when he made a short burst and accepted the pass from Aidan Carr before slotting over.
Derry kicked two dreadful wides but O'Hanlon's first point gave Down a four point lead. Barry O'Hagan squeezed over a tight angled point from the left side of Celtic Park, then tapped over from the right as Down looked unstoppable.
O'Hanlon's converted free stretched Down's lead to eight points before Ryan Johnston bagged a stunning goal.
It was a wonderful but simple team move as 'keeper Michael Cunningham picked out the magnificent Conor Maginn, he quickly passed to Barry O'Hagan and the then threaded his delivery to Johnston who closed in on goal with pace before rattling the net.
Ballyholland's Joe Murphy and Kilcoo's O'Hanlon tagged on points before Maginn somehow scored from what looked an impossible angle and so with 25 minutes gone Down had stormed to 1-10 in front.
Derry eventually got off the mark on 26 minutes with a Conor McAtamney point and having seen a way through the Down defence Benny Heron set up Emmett McGuckian, who rattled the Mourne net.
McAtamney then struck another point but the wheels weren't coming off it was only a brief blip before O'Hanlon restored order with a stunning long-range point.
And the Down boss was pleased with how his side had performed.
“I was delighted by how far we were ahead. I didn't think we would be that far ahead but having said that I thought they used the ball very intelligently and took their scores when they presented themselves, so I was delighted," he said.
“We dipped for a brief period and we gave Derry a lifeline and that made the second half a bit tougher for us but I was happy enough at half-time, with what we had on the board.
“We had two very good halves. The first half we had the wind at our back and we used it very well and we got a few scores on the board and after half time we were able to hold the ball and move it and punch holes and get scores when we needed them.
“In the second half the breeze was stiff enough and I thought they used the ball very well and moved it from side to side and we were trying to punch holes. When holes appeared we were able to put a bit of pace on the ball and thankfully it worked out well for us in the end as we got a few scores at crucial times, which kept the scoreboard ticking over and the gap between us and Derry."
Half-time: Derry 1-03 Down 1-11.
The second half was played at a pedestrian pace. Down had the job done and Derry offered little in way of a threat and after 35 minutes, the sides struck a further four points each. Two more from O'Hanlon while Ryan Johnston and Caolan Mooney had goal chances but opted to point.
While Derry were shockingly poor, Down were exceptional. The return of Caolan Mooney, Benny McArdle and Ryan Johnston would improve any team.
And while sometimes the sweeper looks brilliant but is really catching balls going nowhere, Kevin McKernan was excellent as not only did he mop up, but his quality of delivery meant Down were always on the front foot.
Likewise Maginn, Mooney and Johnston pitched perfect low passes to Barry O'Hagan who was razor sharp. Aidan Carr kept it simple and his side motoring, while Turley covered much of Celtic Park and won plenty of high balls.
Joe Murphy and Shay Millar again put in the hard yards and in defence Ryan McAleenan and Darren O'Hagan had little difficulty. And when Mark Poland, Paul Devlin, Cathal Magee, Niall Donnelly and Jerome Johnston come off the bench, which they did, then it is obvious that Down are moving in the right direction.
And Burns is happy with how they performed and feels that back-to-back wins over Meath and Derry should give encouragement ahead of Saturday evening's game at Pairc Esler.
“A win definitely helps but they work very hard and they've worked very hard before this game and in preparation for this game," said Burns.
“Obviously confidence is a big boost to any team and we are no different. We have some experienced players who, when our back was to the wall, they kept going and for the younger lads that came onto the team, the two wins will obviously build confidence and will bring them along, which is good for everyone.
“We are happy with our performance against Meath as we got a win and we are happy with this performance as we stepped up another step and if we are going to make more progress we are going to have to keep taking these steps and things are going to have to keep improving.
“The players and the management are very well aware of that, but I think from the Meath game until now there was a marked improvement."


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