Down should repeat the dose against Derry
Their defence has tightened up considerably since that first encounter
Ryan Bell should be able to give Eoin Bradley some support for Derry against Down. Photograph: Inpho
The Ulster quarter-final between these two teams a month ago was such a glorious anomaly that a little stir-about of the scoring feats we saw in Celtic Park is in order. It finished 2-17 to 1-15 in Down’s favour, the combined 3-32 counting as the highest tally in any game in the championship so far.
The only games that have come remotely close to that total have been turkey shoots – Kerry over Waterford, Cork over Clare, Dublin over Kildare – whereas Derry were within two points of Down with eight minutes to go.
More remarkable still was the amount each side scored from play. Only four points were scored from placed balls all game, leaving a staggering 3-28. To get an idea of how far removed from the norm you have to stray before you get to a game with 37 points from play, the average of the other three Ulster quarter-finals was 16. The average of the four Leinster ones was 22. If 15 points above the norm looks mind-boggling on paper, rest assured it was entirely pleasant in person.
All aboard for a repeat then? Not so fast. Down were trying their blanket defence out for size that day, rolling out for the first time in a championship game.
In that first half, they had the look of men building a flat-pack cabinet without looking at the instructions. They put a sweeper in front of Eoin Bradley but still allowed him the ball, which seemed to defeat the purpose. It all added up to 1-10 conceded before half-time.
They look to have gradually worked it out, however. In the three halves since, they’ve conceded 0-5, 0-6 and 0-6 respectively. After an early wobble against Donegal, they locked the game down and stopped them streaking clear like they had in last year’s Ulster final. They don’t look like a side that has the concession of anything like 1-15 in them.
Derry were pretty clinical again last week against Sligo and Brian McIver clearly has his young side dancing to his tune. Bradley comes back into the side even though he’s not 100 per cent over his shoulder injury but Ryan Bell and Lee Kennedy did a fair bit of damage in his absence so he won’t have to go it alone so much.
Ultimately though, Derry needed someone other than Down to come out of the draw. James McCartan’s side are further down the road and should prosper here.
Last meeting: June 2 2013, Ulster Championship, Celtic Park - Derry 1-15 Down 2-17
Match odds: Down 5/6; Derry 13/10; Draw 15/2
Injuries: Derry have Eoin Bradley back but Ger O’Kane is still out with a knee injury. Down are unchanged from the Donegal game.
Just the ticket: Stand - Adult: €15/£12, Student & OAP: €10/£9, U16: €5/£5; Terrace – €10/£9
DERRY: E McNicholl; D Brown, C McKaigue, D McBride; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; P Bradley, PJ McCloskey; C McAtamney, J Kielt, E Lynn; L Kennedy, E Bradley, R Bell.
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn; D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle; K King, K McKernan; A Rogers, M Poland, N Madine; C Laverty, B Coulter, D O’Hare.
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).