Down dig deep to outshoot Derry in a high-scoring, free-wheeling classic

James McCartan’s side overcome first-half wobbles to grab the spoils

Down 2-17 Derry 1-15: Some days you've just got to spin the tombola and see what comes out. We came to Derry with an open mind but no real confidence that our liberal attitude would be do us much good. Yet we left having seen the best football of the summer so far, a tumbling waterfall of a game that freshened the faces of everyone in Celtic Park. Who knew?

Down came through in the end by five points, turning a careless first-half display on its head after the break as they gradually came to terms with the system James McCartan wants them playing. But for long spells they were matched and indeed bettered by Derry. Were it not for a stunning no-thought save by Brendan McVeigh in first-half injury time, Brian McIver's side would have taken a mite more catching than Down looked capable of. That save left the road back shorter and altogether more manageable.

Long-range shooting
In a shoot-out like this, five points in a half makes for a pretty light ammunition belt. Because it was one of the rare games for which a thumb through the stats makes startling reading. Of the 3-32 that went up on the scoreboard, 3-28 was from play. Partly this was down to the fact that David Coldrick flashed two yellow cards inside the first four minutes and thereafter swallowed his whistle for all but the most egregious fouls. But mostly it was down to some of the best long-range shooting that will be seen at any ground all summer. There were just 15 wides kicked in total.

From one end of the pitch to the other, both sides gave lie to the notion that intercounty players can't or won't kick the ball anymore. What James Kielt and Eoin Bradley could do for Derry, Kevin McKernan and Niall Madine revelled in answering for Down. McKernan's four points from midfield were leader-of-men stuff, a couple of them late on as Derry threatened a tight finish coming at the end of a riotous gallop through the defence. It was highly entertaining stuff.


And though there was an enormous amount here that will spook Jim McGuinness ahead of the Ulster semi-final, it wasn’t as though the two sides set up like lambs to the tactical slaughter. They both essayed their own form of blanket defence, they both broke en masse when they turned the ball over. Whatever happens in three weeks, it’s worth pointing out that Donegal weren’t Donegal straight away. Down in particular look like a team that will become more expert as they go.

That said, they were comfortably second best in the opening period here. Derry went in four points ahead at the break, thanks in the main to Mark Lynch’s goal just short of it. The Down defence hadn’t been able to get a handle on Eoin Bradley at all and on top of his four points from play, it was Bradley who laid the goal on a plate for Lynch. It meant that Derry led 1-10 to 0-9 after a gut-busting first half, with only that wonder save from McVeigh keeping Down in it.

Final nail
Derry then came out and made the one mistake they couldn't afford. With the final nail sitting there gleaming at them, they misplaced the hammer. After kicking only two wides in the whole of the first half, they had another four on the board inside the first six minutes of the second. It turned out to be all the encouragement Down needed.

From the 41st minute to the 55th, Down outscored their hosts by 2-5 to 0-1. The hard-running Mark Poland began to dominate from centre half-forward, putting Donal O'Hare in for Down's first goal and then following up with one of his own eight minutes later.

McKernan and Kalum King squeezed midfield matters entirely their own way and it was only a trio of miracle points from Kielt, Lynch and Brian McCallion that kept Derry in the same time zone. But as soon as Lynch brought the gap back to two points with five minutes to go, McKernan made the day his own.

DERRY: E McNicholl; G O'Kane, C McKaigue, R Scott; C Kielt (0-1), M Lynch (1-1), B McCallion (0-1); P Bradley, R Bell; A McAlynn, J Kielt (0-5, one free), E Lynn (0-1); B Heron (0-2, one 45), E Bradley (0-4), C Devlin. Subs: D Mullen for Bell (53 mins), E McGuckin for Devlin (58 mins), D Brown for McCallion (62 mins), B Gormley for P Bradley (65 mins), L Kennedy for Heron (69 mins).
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle; D Rooney (0-1), P Turley, K Quinn; K King (0-1), K McKernan (0-4); A Rogers (0-1), M Poland (1-2), N Madine (0-3), D O'Hare (1-4, two frees), B Coulter, C Laverty. Subs: D Savage for Rogers (53 mins), R Mallon for Quinn (58 mins), J Johnston (0-1) for Coulter (64 mins), O Costello for Poland, 71 mins.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times