Will it be a long or a short summer?

May 27, 2013

● Ulster Championship Down v Derry

Last year Down reached the Ulster Final. Five of that team – Darren O’Hagan, Dan Gordon, Aidan Brannagan, Aidan Carr and Liam Doyle – definitely won’t be playing when Down resumes their Ulster Championship involvement on Sunday.

The expected Down line out for Celtic Park is Brendan McVeigh; Dan McCartan, Benny McArdle, Ryan Boyle; Declan Rooney, Damian Turley, Ryan Mallon; Kalum King, Kevin McKernan; Ambrose Rogers, Mark Poland, Conor Laverty; Donal O’Hare, Niall Madine and Benny Coulter.

Brendan McVeigh has done enough in the second half of the league to see off the immediate prospects of the next Down keeper, Michael Cunningham, who played in the early stages of the season.

The full-back line of Dan McCartan, Benny McArdle and Ryan Boyle has established itself as the favoured last line of defence starting four league matches. Ryan Boyle has been a revelation in his debut season and his playing style should flourish on firmer summer pitches.

The half-back line of Declan Rooney, Damian Turley and Ryan Mallon is there to stop the Derry half-forwards, though Ryan Mallon does bring a bit of flair to this sector. He has seen off the threat from the more robust Peter Turley as ultra defensive Down need Ryan Mallon’s trademark solo runs as an outlet.

At midfield Kevin McKernan and Kalum King started all but one league encounter and gelled as the campaign progressed, the more adventurous Kevin McKernan complemented by the solid Kalum King.

It is in attack Down take their risks as they try to bolster one of the least productive forward divisions in the country.

Having played little football in the past nine months, Ambrose Rogers will be positioned on the half-forward line alongside Mark Poland and Conor Laverty. He will be targeted from kick outs and expected to help out at midfield while Mark Poland and Conor Laverty have become more playmakers than scorers, Mark scored in three league matches and Conor in only two, managing seven points between them, but they can provide the quality ball that the inside forwards require.

In that full-forward line Benny Coulter, Niall Madine and Donal O’Hare will be expected to rack up a winning tally. Benny Coulter has seen it all before, Niall Madine is a championship debutant while Donal O’Hare has not played much recently due to injury but is the County’s top marksman with 2-25 in six league games.

Connaire Harrison and Keith Quinn are a couple who, like Peter Turley, may yet force themselves into contention for a starting berth while Danny Savage and David McKibben could come off the bench. Daniel Hughes has played only half a match since last year; to have him, Ambrose Rogers and Donal O’Hare on the pitch at the same time would not be a wise move.

All the rumours and misleading information about player availability will become clear only when the ball is thrown in, remember Brewster Park last year when Arthur McConville paraded behind the band, then ran into the dugout to be replaced by Donal O’Hare just as the game was about to start?

Down won no away games in the league, Derry lost no home games. The teams passed one another in the close season when Derry replaced Down in Division One.

Down had a host of hard luck stories which always accompany relegated teams but league tables don’t lie, they give a true reflection of worth and Down were the worse team in the First Division. Derry were the best team in Division Two, there won’t be much between them.

Down beat Mayo who have gone on to annihilate Galway in Connacht while Derry lost to that Galway side and drew with Armagh who Cavan knocked out a week ago. Is losing at a higher level better preparation than winning at a lower level?

One thing that is for sure is that Down won’t be as cavalier as Armagh were in Cavan. James McCartan is too conservative to throw caution to the wind or go for the populist vote by playing all out attacking football. Down will be set up to grind out a result. At times in the league they withdrew all fifteen men inside their own fifty and, having naively thrown away two points in added time v Cork, they went out a week later and played on the edge v Mayo frustrating James Horan’s side with some very un-Down like play and winning.

Brian McIver was in the Down dugout in 2010 for the All-Ireland Final, he is now manager of Derry. The Down players then thought highly of him, many commented on his knowledge of the game, well now he also has knowledge of them, their weaknesses and strengths, and that information can be crucial on Sunday.

In the MINOR MATCH Down look to be up against it. Derry are backboned by players from the St Pat’s, Maghera Hogan Cup team and the Ulster Minor Club champions Watty Graham’s, Glen. The Mourne side has been keeping a low profile, though have put in some decent performances against the likes of Mayo and Meath in recent weeks. In the Ulster League Down won all their group games while Derry lost all theirs, however that can be put down to the involvement or non-involvement of colleges in the MacRory Cup.This is not an All Ticket fixture, there are tickets available for the Covered Stand and Clubs have the opportunity to purchase up to 10 Stand tickets. Stand tickets are priced at £20 for Adults, £12 for Seniors and £5 for U16.  Unlimited Adult Terrace tickets are also available in advance at a price of £12, U16 are admitted free to the terrace.

Details will also be circulated in advance of the proposed traffic management details as the Derry City Marathon is taking place on the same day. Throw-in for the senior game is 2pm. It will be preceded by the meeting of Derry and Down in the Ulster MFC at 12.15pm.