Saturday night showdown

May 19, 2014

• USFC Down 3-8 Tyrone 2-11

What a start to the 2014 Ulster Championship as Down defied the odds at Omagh with hosts Tyrone striking 2 late points to earn a replay next Saturday night at Pairc Esler, in a match that provided plenty of talking points. Black cards, lack of black cards, penalties, no advantage rule, inconsistent refereeing, no first half show from Down followed by a whirlwind second half display, Tyrone squandered a 7 point lead and needed the help of the ref to turn a sideline ball into a convertible free from Sean Cavanagh to snatch the draw.

It is hard to know what to take from the game as Down first half were playing like a team in a challenge game yet Tyrone could not punish them sufficiently despite their dominance. Down’s manager makes 3 interval substitutions to try and overcome a 1-5 to 0-3 deficit.  With 16 minutes left on the clock Tyrone led 2-9 to 1-5 yet with 10 minutes remaining Down took the lead through their captain Mark Poland, after goals from Donal O’Hare and Conor Maginn brought them right into it. The weather conditions contributed to poor passages of play but it will be the non-appliance of the new rules that had been so visible in the league, yet absent in this championship game, that has left both managements and supporters frustrated. What will the Saturday night showdown at Pairc Esler bring, no one knows, but it will be hard pushed to match the drama and turnaround witnessed in this game at Healy Park where both managers made changes to their teams for this Preliminary Round championship encounter.

James McCartan named an experienced starting fifteen for Down; twelve of the side which lost their final NFL match in Laois were listed to start with Ryan Boyle, Conor Laverty and Kevin McKernan selected ahead of Owen Costello, Benny Coulter and Paul Devlin.

Conor Garvey (injury) and Conor Maginn (travelling) returned to Championship action having missed the 2013 campaign while Aidan Carr was also recalled to the starting Championship side.

Making way was Jerome Johnston, dropped to the bench and Kalum King and Keith Quinn no longer on the panel.

Meanwhile, Mickey Harte made five changes from the Tyrone team which lost out to Dublin in their final NFL match, Danny McBride, Barry Tierney, Tiernan McCann, Conor Clarke and Niall McKenna all came into the starting line-up with Ronan McNamee, Ryan McKenna, Emmet McKenna, Shay McGuigan and Connor McAliskey making way.

Youth prodigy Kyle Coney made his first championship start for Tyrone while Tierney and McCann made their championship debuts in a team showing a huge eight changes from their 2013 All Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo.

Tyrone led by 1-5 to 0-3 after a poor first half with only three of the nine scores coming from play. Though they were trailing by five points Down would have been relieved to be still in the match as they were second best in all positions in the first thirty five minutes. The problems we all expected materialised, Down were cleaned out at centre field and lacked a scoring threat from play in attack, leaving the defence under almost constant pressure.