Mark Poland under no illusions about the looming threat of Donegal

Down centre-forward had best scoring day for three seasons against Derry

Donegal loom over all of Ulster football now, unmovable and unpromising as the cemetery that looked down upon Down and Derry in Celtic Park on Sunday.

Tickled and all as we were by the gala performance we’d been treated to, it was no time before we had to cough and shuffle and move ever-so grimly on. Down’s reward is a dinner date with Donegal in three weeks. Most of us assume it is James McCartan’s side who are on the menu.

Mark Poland must have run Kevin McKernan mighty close for Man of the Match against Derry, the 1-2 he stuck on the board his best total since the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry.

But before he got any more than ankle-deep into his enjoyment of the day, we had to throw Donegal at him. In fairness, he took it in good part.


“They are the team that you want to be pitting yourself against,” he said.

“Derry might look at us in three weeks’ time and wish they were there too. That’s what you play football for, you are there to compete against those teams. They have some of the best players in Ireland. They showed that last week.

“But we are going to have to learn to compete. Conceding 1-15 is not going to do against Donegal. I know that we got 2-17 but we put pressure on ourselves. I think it showed in the end, especially the boys who came off the bench.

"We had a lot of newcomers to championship football and with the turnover of players we have had over the past two or three years, I don't think there is a county in Ireland would keep doing what we are doing."

The turnover Poland refers to was laid bare on the BBC coverage of the game, where they were able to pick an alternative Down team from those unavailable through injury and emigration.

Were they able to throw the likes of Dan Gordon, Conor Garvey, Liam Doyle, Aidan Carr and Paul McComiskey into the mix, people would have to sit up and take notice.

And that’s without even reaching for your Marty Clarkes and your Caolán Mooneys who’ve been spirited away by pro sport.

As a result, the Down side is callow just now and can take their time to get to the pitch of some games.

So at half-time on Sunday, McCartan did something out of the ordinary for him. He spread his arms to quell the general hubbub and insisted that everybody stop what they were at and just listen. For the second year in a row, they were behind in an Ulster Championship match against a side they really should have been beating.

The break
And just as against Monaghan last summer, they'd had the shock paddles applied just short of the break.

For Aidan Carr’s penalty that reduced a nine-point deficit to six in 2012, read Brendan McVeigh’s save to deny Eoin Bradley this time around that kept a four-point deficit from deepening to seven.

So that Monaghan game was invoked, purely as a reminder that they had been in heavier going before and had made light of it. They could do the same this time around if they only rowed in with the game plan that had been devised for them.

“The older boys had a few words at half-time,” says Poland. “James spoke too and it’s not like him. A few boys were walking about and going to the toilet and that, he made sure everybody was listening to him. Myself and Benny (Coulter) and Ambrose (Rogers) spoke at half-time and thankfully the players listened.

“Boys did what they had to do in the second half. There are boys who are going to have to hold their hands up and say that the first-half performance wasn’t good enough.

“ A lot of us will have to take a look at our first-half performance. We’ll have to change tack. We probably won’t get as much time on the ball against Donegal.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times