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McCartan's men get off on a good footing

Ulster championship games are famous for their intensity and sheer ferocity at times, but in the last few years the province has produced more bad games than good ones and yesterday's match in Ballybofey never really broke away from the ordinary.

Down deserved to win, simply because they played the better football throughout and tried to play a more direct game using the foot pass to good effect at times. Donegal have only one way of playing, which has proved so unsuccessful over the years as they continue to use the handpass more than the boot.

Overdoing the handpass to that extent would be acceptable to a degree if the team had average forwards but the opposite is the case with some of the very best attackers in the country coming out of the county over the last decade or so. Michael Murphy is a huge talent, but again yesterday his team-mates refused to play the ball in long.


He is a young man starting out at this level and has a long future in the green-and-yellow jersey, but unless the habits of a lifetime can be broken, he is going to have a very frustrating career ahead of him.

Down march on while Murphy and his colleagues must switch their focus to the first round of the qualifiers next month. James McCartan will be very pleased to have come away with the spoils, but he will know that his team will need to improve significantly if they are to put it up to the reigning Ulster champions Tyrone in a few weeks time.

That of course will be the acid test for this young Down team but before they start thinking about that game I am sure McCartan will want to look back at the positives and, more importantly, the things his team need to improve on.

First and foremost, he will look at the two early goals his defence conceded. Against better quality opposition, Down might not have recovered, but Donegal struggled to find the one-pointers after that. The first goal conceded was as a result of a long ball from Barry Monaghan into the danger area and Murphy caught a great ball over the head of Brendan McArdle and James Colgan and he offloaded to Dermot Molly, who finished neatly.

That was one of the very few long balls into Murphy all afternoon. The Down defence was again marked absent for the second goal. Molloy's shot for a point came back off the upright and bounced down for Conal Dunne, who was left completely unmarked.

That score could have knocked the stuffing out of Down but a mixture of poor football from Donegal and some good build-up play and scores brought Down to within two points at the interval.

The second half produced better football from both teams, with Donegal keeping their noses in front until the hour mark when Benny Coulter levelled matters for the first time, but Donegal responded with a point from David Walsh. The Donegal man had a goal for the taking, but decided to fist an easy point.

Coulter again squared matters with a well-taken point as the clock clicked down, but there was still time for a brilliant reflex save by Paul Durcan in the Donegal goal from a Dan Gordon knockdown.

Martin Clarke then seemed to have scored the winner as the clock ticked into added-on time but Donegal, to their credit, did manage to work the equaliser though Rory Kavanagh to push the game into extra-time.

The match opened up in those extra minutes and that suited the young men from Down. Coulter, who had a terrific game, kicked a lovely score in the early minutes of the first period and that was followed up by another from Danny Hughes who also contributed immensely to his team's victory.

At that stage one felt that Down would push on but Donegal did come back to level the game. The killer score came from Coulter who received a pass from Martin Clarke and he is lethal when he gets a sniff at the goal.


That score broke the Donegal spirit, but when they look back at the video of this encounter they will see that they contributed heavily to their own demise.

I counted at least half-a-dozen loose handpasses which went astray when the player in possession was under no pressure at all.

There were other very basic errors such as kicking the ball off the field and some of the Donegal players were pulled up for handling the ball on the ground. Down, on the other hand, used possession better and looked more dangerous when they moved the ball at pace.

The Down supporters will be delighted that Martin Clarke is back to play with the county and although he looked a little rusty yesterday, there was enough to suggest that he is going to be a huge asset going forward.

He kicked a couple of stunning points and had the vision to find Coulter for the winning score late into extra-time. So, overall it was a good opening game for Down and they can now look forward to seeing how they measure up against a seasoned team like Tyrone.

I think Down have the potential to upset the current Ulster champions and the fact that they will be rank outsiders won't bother them in the least. For Donegal, it's the qualifiers again but I cannot see them going too far unless, of course, the draw is kind.