Keenan’s red card wrecks Canavan’s dream debut hopes
DOWN 2-10 FERMANAGH 1-8
ANY DREAM that Peter Canavan had of getting his Ulster championship managerial debut off to a sensational start disappeared into the ether after just eight minutes in Enniskillen yesterday.
That's how long had gone when Fermanagh half-forward Daryl Keenan got a straight red card for an alleged off-the-ball strike on Conor Laverty.
Referee Syl Doyle was initially summoned by one of his umpires and then ran half the length of the pitch to dismiss the Fermanagh player, much to his manager's dismay.
"I'm bitterly disappointed with that aspect of the game," the Tyrone legend said. "Daryl's a very honest footballer and a very clean footballer and he says he was sent off in the wrong, that he didn't strike."
As Keenan departed the field so too did Fermanagh's hopes of repeating their famous 2009 turnover of Down on this pitch.
The odds were already stacked in the Division 4 versus Division 1 tussle and suddenly they were doubled, as even Mournes' boss James McCartan acknowledged, calling it "the key moment in the game."
Another big talking point was the absence of Fermanagh full-forward Seamus Quigley until the 52nd minute.
Three Fermanagh forwards, including Shane McCabe (sick), were replaced before throw-in, but it was the removal of their top scorer from the start list (he scored 5-46 during the league) that caused a buzz, especially as so much conjecture had surrounded his selection beforehand.
Asked if Quigley's omission was for disciplinary reasons, Canavan insisted: "No. He hurt his hamstring last Sunday in a training weekend and that's why he didn't start."
Quigley's brother Conor actually took to the pitch before him (and did well in defence) and the big man himself scored two frees.
But even his late arrival couldn't divert the course of a game that had already swung Down's way.
The visitors made one exceptionally late pre-match change themselves, introducing Donal O'Hare for Arthur McConville after the parade was completed.
And the Burren U-21 got off to a great start, opening their scoring with a point and then goaling on 21 minutes.
With their numerical advantage, Down raced into an eight-point lead but at times it was more like watching rugby league than Gaelic football as Fermanagh dropped everyone but Daniel Kille and Tomas Corrigan back inside their own half.
Retreating in numbers was a natural reaction to going a man down but against an off-loading, running team like Down that also invited trouble and they got it.
Even when Fermanagh did manage to wrangle the ball back they made ineffectual sideways passes to men just a couple of feet away and they eventually turned ends six points down (0-3 to 1-6 ).
But Canavan did have the consolation of seeing his side outscore the opposition (1-5 to 1-4) in the second-half, when Eoin Donnelly, Conor Quigley and Eamon Maguire provided some leadership.
"I asked them to go out and win the second half and they were able to do that, they kept battling away so you have to admire their spirit," he said.
Fermanagh improved once they started to run at Down with pace and within 11 minutes had cut the deficit to just three when substitute Maguire won a dubious enough free and quickly delivered it to the unmarked Damien Kelly who took a beautifully measured goal.
But that only seemed to awaken Down from their temporary slumber.
Points from Dan McCartan and Kevin Duffin kicked them on again and then Laverty, who proved a real menace throughout, got a brilliant individual goal just before the hour mark and it was game over.
Without injured stars like Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon, Down were much relieved to have avoided slipping on this potential banana skin.
"Anyone who wins an Ulster championship match is happy, no matter how ugly it is and it was probably ugly at times there today," McCartan said, conceding that they were just as defensive as Fermanagh at times.
Captain Ambrose Rogers, in his first championship game since 2010, was immense in midfield where he and Kalum King lorded it and, complementing the brilliant Laverty, Kevin McKernan, Brendan McArdle and Danny Hughes were also excellent.
But the numerical imbalance certainly produced some unusual statistics.
Only one Down score came from a free and they had 11 scorers, including four defenders and one point apiece for their full-back line.
"Yes, Benny McArdle scored one but then his man went up and scored two so he was minus-one after that." quipped McCartan dryly. "Look, we're satisfied, they're a team you have to break down and we did that," he said.
Scorers -- Down: D O'Hare 1-1, C Laverty 1-0, D McCartan, B McArdle, D O'Hagan, K McKernan, A Rogers, K King, C Maginn, K Duffin, A Carr (f) 0-1 each. Fermanagh: D Kelly 1-1, D Kille 0-3 (2f), S Quigley 0-2 (2f), T Corrigan, P Ward 0-1 each.
Down -- B McVeigh 7; B McArdle 8, C Garvey 7, D McCartan 7; K McKernan 8, D O'Hagan 7, A Branagan 7; A Rogers 9, K King 8; D Hughes 8, C Maginn 8, A Carr 6; C Laverty 9, D O'Hare 8, M Poland 7. Subs: K Duffin 7 for Carr (49), E McCartan 6 for Poland (60), A McConville for Laverty (67), D Rooney for Rogers (68), D Turley for Branagan (70).
Fermanagh -- R Gallagher 7; B Cox 5, B Owens 6, N Bogue 7; B Mulrone 6, N McGovern 7, D Kelly 8; S Lyons 5, M McGrath 6; D Keenan 4, B Og Maguire 5, E Donnelly 7; T Corrigan 6, D Kille 8, T McElroy 6. Subs: E Maguire 8 for B Maguire (h-t), C Quigley 8 for Cox (h-t), R Jones 6 for McGrath (50), S Quigley 6 for McElroy (52), P Ward for Kille (66).
Ref -- S Doyle (Wexford)