Kingdom of Mourne reign

August 3, 2010

When GAA people talk their sport there is one word which is liberally and continually used-TRADITION. The older generation of GAA followers hold great stock in it, the new generation view with scepticism but after the All-Ireland quarter final on Saturday Down folk in particular will swear by it as the Kingdom of Mourne once again reign when it comes to playing football with the mighty Kingdom itself, Kerry

Down supporters were in seventh heaven on Saturday as their team comprehensively dismissed All-Ireland champions Kerry from the Championship at Croke Park to maintain Down’s proud record of never having lost a Championship match to the Kingdom and in so doing also ended Kerry’s impressive record of never having lost an All Ireland quarter-final.

All credit must go to team manager James McCartan who has the enviable knack of getting the best out of groups of ordinary players. He has done it at Queen’s with Sigerson Cup success, at Burren with a League title and as Down boss with NFL promotion and after this latest feat is on the cusp of his greatest honour yet.

Supporters will look at this player or that player, maybe question their inclusion or omission, but the players themselves have bought into McCartan’s management and he presides over a competitive but contented squad in which the team ethos outweighs personal ambition.

Down needed a good start as much to bolster their own confidence as to undermine Kerry’s and they got it, big time. Within a minute of the throw-in Mark Poland had the ball nestled in the Kerry net. Kalum King dispossessed Miceal Quirke, the ball came to Paul McComiskey, his pass left Mark Poland with a lot to do but he nipped across the front of Tom O’Sullivan and caught the ball, his momentum took him clear of the Kerry defender and faced with Brendan Kealy he picked his spot in the top far corner of the net.

Paul McComiskey was provider again when he intercepted a loose Quirke pass and placed Benny Coulter for a point and in the fourth minute Ambrose Rogers converted a fifty won by Paul McComiskey’s persistence.

Down went an amazing six nil clear when Paul McComiskey pointed after good play by Martin Clarke and Mark Poland.

Kerry had their moments but had no answer to the tigerish Down tackling as the Mourne men ran themselves to a standstill in the first ten minutes. In the euphoria of victory it may go unnoticed that Down waited seventeen minutes until their next score, a Martin Clarke fifty in the twenty eighth minute.

Meantime Kerry began to pick up the breaks around midfield and put the Down defence under steady pressure. In a seven minute spell Kerry cut the deficit from six to two points with scores from Colm Cooper 0-3 and Bryan Sheehan 0-1 and Down got a let off when Kerry had a goal ruled out.

Within minutes Martin Clarke pointed that fifty and followed up with a point from play off a Benny Coulter pass, Mark Poland added a free after a foul on John Clarke and rounded off the first half scoring with a fine score after clever play from Daniel Hughes and Martin Clarke.

Kerry had one last chance on the counter attack but the hard working Martin Clarke got a hand in to dispossess Colm Cooper and the chance was gone.

Half Time Down 1-7 Kerry 0-4

Kerry moved Kieran Donaghy to midfield for the restart, indeed they replaced both their midfielders during the match, a testament both to the Down centre field pairing of Ambrose Rogers and Kalum King and to Dan Gordon’s growing stature as an inter county full back.

Kieran Donaghy’s absence from the square left Colm Cooper a desolate lonely spearhead to their attack and restricted further their already limited prospects.

Martin Clarke and Colm Cooper swapped opening frees, then Brian Sheehan (free) and Paul McComiskey (play) exchanged scores. In the forty fifth minute Colm Cooper pointed Kerry’s third and last score from play; to have kept Kerry to three points from play over seventy minutes said a lot about the performance of the Down defensive unit.

Kerry’s cause was not helped by yet another piece of personal indiscipline following on from the Paul Galvin and Tomas O’Se incidents when Donnacha Walsh got himself sent off for two yellow cards after a recklessly high tackle on Mark Poland.

Five points down and a man down with twenty five minutes remaining Kerry had it all to do, Colm Cooper slotted his fourth free for that vital first score after the dismissal. However Kerry were leaderless and with Kieran Donaghy mistaking petulance and late tackles for leadership they were lucky he did not join Walsh in the dugout.

Down missed three handy chances to extend their lead and put Kerry away before a quick free from Martin Clarke to Benny Coulter ended with Paul McComiskey fisting a Down goal, but the score was ruled out to even up for Kerry’s earlier disallowed goal.

So with only four points separating the teams, Down still had work to do. Brendan McVeigh made a fine save at the feet of Kieran Donaghy and Brian Sheehan converted the fifty to leave a single score (goal) between them in the fifty second minute, the closest Kerry came.

Down dominated the final quarter of the match. Substitute Conor Maginn pointed, Benny Coulter added a couple and another substitute Ronan Murtagh put Down seven points clear as the Mournemen put on a show which had Kerry floundering.

Kerry got in on goals in a by now rare excursion into the Down third but again Brendan McVeigh was impassable with an even better save to deny Kieran Donaghy a second time. Martin Clarke and Colm Cooper added pointed frees before into added time Peter Fitzpatrick and Ambrose Rogers kicked Down points apiece to put them nine points clear.

There was still time for a dubious penalty award converted by David Moran with the last kick of the match to give Kerry a flattering six point defeat.

This was a fine Down team performance with each player having memorable input at various times during the seventy minutes.

Down: Brendan McVeigh, Daniel McCartan, Dan Gordon, Damien Rafferty; Declan Rooney; Kevin McKernan, Conor Garvey; Ambrose Rogers (0-2), Kalum King; Daniel Hughes, Mark Poland (1-2, 1f), Paul McComiskey (0-2); Benny Coulter (0-2), John Clarke, Martin Clarke (0-4, 3f). Subs: Conor Maginn (0-1), Ronan Murtagh (0-1), Peter Fitzpatrick (0-1), Ronan Sexton.

Kerry: Brendan Kealy; Mark O Se, Tommy Griffin, Tomas O’Sullivan; Aidan O’Mahony, Mike McCarthy, Killian Young; Seamus Scanlon, Michael Quirke; Darran O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan, Donnacha Walsh; Colin Cooper (0-7, 5f), Kieran Donaghy, Brian Sheehan (0-3, 2f). Subs: David Moran (1-0, pen.), Barry John Keane, Kieran  O’Leary, Daniel Bohane.

* Down manager James McCartan said his side’s 1-16 to 1-10 football quarter-final win over Kerry represents ‘a fantastic day for Down’. ‘At the start of the year I wouldn’t really have dreamed of beating Kerry but they were missing a couple of players. We knew if we could play to our ability we’d be in with a chance. Maybe Kerry were a wee bit off the boil and we took advantage.’

Asked about which of Meath or Kildare his team would like to meet, McCartan replied: ‘I don’t really mind who we get.’

* Down forward Martin Clarke was pleased with his team’s display after the shock 1-16 to 1-10 win over champions Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. “It was a great performance throughout – we just focused on getting a good start and going on from there,” said Clarke, “The goal settled us and after going six points up we knew we had a chance, it was similar to the Sligo game last weekend when we had a considerable lead so we knew what to do. Kerry enjoyed a good patch in the first half but we weathered that and kicked on well. We’ll enjoy beating Kerry but our focus is just on the semi-final.”