McCartan’s juggling leaves Sligo reeling

July 27, 2010

Down manager James McCartan rang the changes ahead of this defining qualifier against previous conquerors Sligo at Kingspan Breffni Park. Never in his wildest dreams, or that of the growing travelling Down support, could he have imagined the final result which will have served notice to all that Down are on the upward spiral and will be no easy pickings for anyone who gets them in the quarter -final.

Danny Hughes and Daniel McCartan returned to the Down starting XV for this clash. Saval clubman Hughes recovered from a stress fracture in his foot and came into the attack in place of Aidan Carr. Hughes was introduced for the final 20 minutes of last Saturday’s game against Offaly and made a telling contribution to the 1-12 to 1-10 win.

The other change saw manager James McCartan’s brother Daniel – who missed the early part of the championship through suspension – return at corner back in place of Darren O’Hagan.

Their unconvincing progress through the Qualifiers with narrow victories over Longford by four points and Offaly by two points have kept the level of expectation low and perhaps presented Down with the perfect means to mould a team. That will be different now, for whether or not Sligo suffered from beaten Provincial finalists syndrome, no one can explain away a 3-20 tally with 3-15 coming from play.

Both sides showed three changes from the published teams as Down started brilliantly before a vociferous attendance of 9,000, from the throw in Martin Clarke placed John Clarke who showed no hesitancy in shooting the opening point before a Sligo hand had touched the ball. Though Benny Coulter lost possession in the next attack, Dan Gordon won it back encouragingly for Down and from his clearance Paul McComiskey placed Daniel Hughes for Down’s second score. Paul McComiskey should have had a goal moments later when in a move began by Mark Poland and involving the two Clarkes the ball came to Ambrose Rogers bearing down on goal and he slipped it to his right but the angle of shot was too tight and Philip Greene parried it wide, Martin Clarke stroked over the fifty to make it three nil after five minutes.

Down squandered some good possession, Ambrose Rogers and Kalum King were dominant at midfield but it was Sligo who scored next when in the eighth minute Adrian Marren converted a soft free.

An up and under style kick from Paul McComiskey was bravely fetched by King who was fouled and Mark Poland pointed the first of his two frees.

Ominously Stephen Coen turned Dan Gordon and raced away for Sligo’s second score but Dan settled into the role with his best performance yet in defence. Mark Poland placed Daniel Hughes for an immediate reply but was wide with a free soon after. Sligo lost Johnny Davey stretchered off after falling awkwardly and when play resumed Martin Clarke was wide with an overly ambitious kick from near the corner flag.

The injury seemed to wake Sligo up and they enjoyed their best spell of the match. Eugene Mullen, Sean Davey and Eamon O’Hara began to exert some influence around the middle of the field resulting in a solitary score for David Kelly but other chances came to nothing with Eamon O’Hara particularly wasteful. Sligo needed some return from this possession but after ten scoreless minutes Down reasserted themselves with a Martin Clarke free signaling a scoring spree which yielded him two further points, a second fifty and one from play and a John Clarke goal finished to the net after strong play along the end line from Benny Coulter, under severe pressure.

1-8 to 0-3 ahead after thirty two minutes, Down let Sligo back into it somewhat before the break. Two frees from Adrian Marren and a super David Kelly point from play doubled Sligo’s score but Paul McComiskey and Mark Poland (free) made it 1-10 to 0-6 at half time.

Sligo needed a good start to the second half if they were to make a game of it but it was Down who were sharpest out of the blocks. Kevin McKernan played a one two with Paul McComiskey before pointing, then midfielders Kalum King and Ambrose Rogers combined for the latter to get on the score sheet, before five minutes into the restart Martin Clarke and Ambrose Rogers conjured a goal chance out of nothing and though Philip Greene got a hand to Rogers initial shot he was helpless when the Down captain followed in to punch to the net.

The game was as good as over. Adrian Marron scored his fourth free and Stephen Coen added another but Down sprung Ronan Murtagh from the bench for the injured Benny Coulter and he fisted three successive scores in as many minutes with huge gaps opening up in the dispirited Sligo rearguard, and Down led by thirteen points midway through the second half.

Darren O’Hagan came on for Damian Rafferty who picked up an arm injury and Peter Fitzpatrick came on for Kalum King, job done, as Ronan Murtagh added two kicked points to his tally, something to prove or what!

Peter Fitzpatrick and Daniel Hughes came close to Down scores, hitting right and left uprights, Jason Brown and Ronan Sexton replaced Martin Clarke and Paul McComiskey with ten minutes still to play.

Colm McGee came on to shoot two late consolations for Sligo which Down answered through a Conor Garvey point and Ronan Murtagh’s tap in goal after Jason Brown’s lob had come back off the bar. Though Kevin McKernan went off injured leaving Down with fourteen men, Daniel Hughes and Peter Fitzpatrick were still able to finish the scoring with points apiece.

Congratulations to Down, their two objectives for 2010 have been achieved – promotion in the League and reaching an All-Ireland Quarter Final. There will be much conjecture on both fronts – Armagh beat them in the League Final while they have undoubtedly been fortunate in the qualifier draw, but nothing and nobody can take away from Down that they will be playing First Division football in 2011 (after successive promotions from Division Three) and they will be playing on the big stage again next week against reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry.

The Mourne mens record against the Kingdom at Croke Park will have Kerry more worried about facing Down than Down will be about taking them on.

Again, well done and don’t forget they are the only team in this year’s Championship to put it up to Tyrone.

DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty; D Rooney, K McKernan 0-1, C Garvey 0-1; A Rogers 1-1, K King; D Hughes 0-3, M Poland 0-2, P McComiskey 0-1; B Coulter, J Clarke 1-1, M Clarke 0-4.

Subs: R Murtagh 1-5 for B Coulter (45 mins), D O’Hagan for D Rafferty (56 mins), P Fitzpatrick 0-1 for K King (57 mins), R Sexton for P McComiskey (60 mins), J Brown for M Clarke (60 mins).

SLIGO: P Greene; C Harrison, N McGuire, R Donavan; K Cawley, B Kennedy, J Davey; E Mullen, S Davey; A Costello, M Breheny, E O’Hara; S Coen 0-2, A Marren 0-4, D Kelly 0-2.

Subs: P McGovern for J Davey (15 mins), S Gilmartin for S Davey (39 mins), K Sweeney for A Costello (43 mins), C McGee 0-2 for M Breheny (46 mins), F Quinn for E O’Hara (54 mins).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).