McCartan denied fairytale return to the helm

McCartan denied fairytale return to the helm

12 January 2022

DOWN senior footballers were left bitterly disappointed to not come away with at least a share of the spoils in their Dr McKenna Cup opener to Donegal on Friday night.

James McCartan’s new look Down side, which included no less than 13 debutants, can take comfort in knowing they were just two points adrift from their very game opponents at a cold and dreary Ballybofey venue.

However, they will feel disheartened having regained the lead with ten minutes to play but ultimately failing to hold out for the win.

Down began with intent from the beginning, winning the throw-in and displaying some smart passing throughout the opening passages of play.

As both teams looked to settle into the contest, the deadlock was broken after six minutes courtesy of a Barry O’Hagan free that signalled the first point registered during McCartan’s second stint at the helm.

A minute later, Conor O’Donnell levelled for Tír Chonaill before marksman Paddy McBrearty kicked over to put Donegal in front.

The Mournemen equalised through another O’Hagan free but once again his team fell behind, this time from a Shane O’Donnell score to edge his side into the lead.

O’Hagan completed his trio of scores, with his latest coming from play, and it was quickly beginning to look like an end to end game with neither outfit wanting to slip further than the minimum behind.

However, this early tit for tat would eventually succumb to four unanswered Donegal scores with McBrearty and Michael Langan hitting a brace of points each.

Despite this ten minute passage of play where Down visibly struggled, the red and black side refused to let their heads and were rewarded for their determination just after the half hour mark.

Forward Andrew Gilmore reduced the deficit to just one point after he found himself in space and made no mistake with his effort to fire past Donegal custodian Michael Lynch for the first major of the match. 

Just a few minutes later Down’s Pat Havern once again brought the scoring to a stalemate, although Donegal would once again show their class through the form of a point from that man McBrearty, who was clearly relishing the challenge. 

Peadar Mongan registered the final score of the half to leave Down trailing by two. 

Half-time: Donegal 0-9 Down 1-4.

Down won the throw-in upon the restart, but they were soon overturned and put on the defensive as Donegal went in search of further breathing space.

The hosts achieved this when Langan notched his third point from a close distance free he was never expected to miss.

Down’s attempts to claw back the deficit were consistently being thwarted by the Donegal rearguard, with both O’Hagan and Gilmore conceding possession at vital moments of their attacks.

Donegal’s Jeaic McKelvey and Down’s Ronan Beatty both picked up yellow cards following an off the ball altercation, before O’Hagan finally curled one over the bar off his left foot to get the Mourne side on the scoreboard in the second half.

Soon after, Havern must have thought his effort would be bursting the back of the net but Donegal’s Brendan McCole had other ideas. 

The Tír Chonaill defender made a fantastic block ten yards from his goal that deflected out for a ’45, which John McGeough duly converted.

Just as McCartan’s men seemed to back within touching distance, Tony McCleneghan found himself on the receiving end of a looped hand pass that left him with a clear route to goal.

The Donegal man fired hard and low beyond the outstretched hand of ‘keeper Rory Burns and into the bottom left corner to give his side a four point lead.

Again, Down showed their resilience after they conceded what felt like a sucker punch, as Ruairi McCormack fisted the ball over the bar to leave three points as the difference before the water-break.

McCormack scored his second unanswered point from play before Odhran Murdock would give the Mourne side the lead through a sweetly struck goal that went under the legs of ‘keeper Lynch.

Donegal were quick to reply through a Ciaran Thompson free and with just five minutes of regulation time to play it was anyone’s game.

With both sides throwing the kitchen sink at each other, it was Donegal duo Mongan and McBrearty who would decide the game to the dismay of the Mournemen.

Despite an additional five minutes of time to play, Down just couldn’t find the back of the net for that crucial third time.

Mourne manager McCartan gave his thoughts on his side’s performance and reflected on his first contest back in charge.

“We’re not happy about losing the game but there were a lot of positives in there,” he said.

“Donegal would have had a more experienced team on the field, we had 13 debutants, who all got game time tonight so that’s a big plus.

“Coming to a place like Ballybofey is difficult, Donegal are a well-established team and we had a lot of new faces but as I say I am relatively pleased.”

McCartan also looked ahead to Tuesday’s match-up with Antrim at Pairc Esler, stating: “We have six Jordanstown players that are unavailable, so there will be more new faces but you might see a couple of more experienced men.

“We can’t just be happy with losing a McKenna Cup game by two points and thinking that’s a job well done.”

Donegal: M Lynch; C Ward, B McCole, O McFadden-Ferry; T McClenaghan (1-0), E Ban Gallagher, J McKelvey; M Langan (0-3, 0-2f), C McGonigle; E Doherty, P Mongan (0-2), S O’Donnell (0-1); P McBrearty (0-5, 0-3f), C McGuinness, C O’Donnell (0-1). 

Subs: E O’Donnell for O McFadden-Ferry, C Thompson for McGuinness, C McColgan for McKelvey, A Doherty for E Doherty, O Doherty for S O’Donnell, J Grant for McClenaghan, M Curran for E Ban Gallagher

Yellow card: J McKelvey

Down: R Burns; D Murtagh, F McElroy, C McCartan; R McCormack (0-2), N McParland, J McGeough (0-1, ‘45); A Doherty, J Connery; O Murdock (1-0), T Close, C O’Rawe; B O’Hagan (0-4, 0-3f), P Havern (0-1), A Gilmore (1-0). 

Subs: B McArdle for Murtagh, R Beatty for Close, L Middleton for Connery, R O’Higgins for O’Rawe, T Prenter for McGeough

Yellow card: R Beatty

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).