Down too tentative at times in first half, says Éamonn Burns
Manager says defeat to Tyrone in Ulster football championship final a ‘learning curve’
Down midfielder Peter Turley tumbles over Tiernan McCann of Tyrone during the Senior Football Championship Final in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
At around half past two, the crowd of 31,912 is parched and riveted and beginning to believe that maybe something exceptional is on the cards. Down have kicked two fine points and suddenly Darragh O’Hanlon is through on goal after another sweeping move by the red and black team which is filled with the familiar Down verve and imagination.
The shot streaks wide but still. For a few minutes, Down were permitted to think: Maybe.
“Experience is crucial,” says Éamonn Burns later, emerging from the Down dressing room while the Anglo Celt is ushered in and out of the Tyrone dressing room as photo-opps dictate. Tyrone had won Ulster by chewing up all in sight and Down were no different.
“It’s difficult to play against them. You definitely have to have men to commit to runs that they probably aren’t going to get the ball from. At times in the first half we didn’t do that, at times in the second half, especially late on, we did do that. It bore fruit. But today’s experience will stand us in good stead.
“It’s a learning curve and we’re taking small steps. Today we would’ve liked to take an Ulster title but unfortunately we didn’t.”
Still, Down’s ascent has been dizzying. The naked hunger of their hour against Monaghan may have been present here but Tyrone never allowed them reach a similar pitch. They closed down all of Down’s strongholds, in particular Connaire Harrison.
“Well I thought Connaire got on to plenty of ball in the first half and I thought Jerome [Johnston] was working hard. We probably weren’t getting ball to them in the right areas which was probably a tribute to the way they were set up.
“In the first half we were a bit tentative in the way we attacked them. In the second half, okay the game was away on us and they have stepped back a bit. We ran at them, punched holes, it seemed to pay dividends for us.
“We didn’t do that in the first half. We did it once in the first half, created a goal chance, if we had have taken that . . . okay, it mightn’t have won us it today, but it would have given us a platform at half-time to work off.”
The qualifier lottery will pit Down against Armagh or Monaghan, the two teams they beat to make it this far.
“No preference,” Burns says. “We’ll see who it is on Monday and then we’ll set our stall out. It depends on how you dress it up. We’re coming off the back of a defeat, they’re coming off the back of a win so it’s up to the management team to get the players up again and ready to go in a fortnight’s time.
“We’ll definitely be doing our very best to have the players ready to compete again on Saturday week.”