Sunday 19 November 2017

O'Hare aiming to get Down back on track

Donal O'Hare was frustrated after missing a penalty. Picture credit: Dire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Donal O'Hare was frustrated after missing a penalty. Picture credit: Dire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

Declan Bogue

A wet January night in Newry, and Down's most dangerous forward, Donal O'Hare is a frustrated man.

In the 18th minute, he stood before a penalty kick. Neil McGee's despairing lunge at Ryan Johnston had brought a black card and Down found themselves in a good position in their league opener against Donegal.

O'Hare drove the ball hard, but it was at too convenient a height for goalkeeper Peter Boyle to beat back out. By half-time, Donegal were 0-9 to 0-2 in front.

At full-time, that gap grew by another 10 points. O'Hare was gone before then, dismissed on a red card for striking, the first time it happened. If the umpires caught O'Hare's retaliation, they didn't see what provoked him.

"It was a bad enough start to the league for me," says the 25-year-old classroom assistant. "I went into the year injured, I missed a penalty and then got sent off!"

Suspended for the next game, O'Hare found himself on the bench for the third game, a 16-point hammering to Kerry. Although Down only scored four points from play, their best shooter only played 13 minutes of the game.

Such is the way with modern football, that attackers can be sacrificed from the team as a result of experimentation with defensive systems.

O'Hare admits he had to tailor his game in order to make it back into Eamonn Burns' plans.

"This is the third manager in three years so there was a lot of adapting from the start. And a lot of boys needed to get their chance too. They fully deserved it."

It hasn't been a vintage season for Down forwards with the fewest scores of any team in the league, but O'Hare finished top scorer with 2-14 - over 30pc of their tally.

In 2011, his former manager at Burren, Frank Dawson handed him his debut at club senior level. The following summer, he found himself playing in an Ulster final, already being depended on by the county.

"He had just finished with St Colman's," recalls Dawson of the precocious talent.

"Quite a few people felt I should have had him in the Burren team, but I was quite conscious of his age and his own development. I wasn't going to expose him to senior football too early."

'Wee James' McCartan was a clubmate at Burren, wanting to nurse him onto the county scene just as Dawson had managed it with the club. But when Benny Coulter broke his ankle in the lead-in to their first game against Fermanagh, they needed him.

During the week, McCartan named Arthur McConville to start but on the day, O'Hare lined out on the edge of the square, presenting two-time All-Star Barry Owens with a completely different proposition than the one he had prepared for. By half-time, O'Hare had 1-1 and the game was settled.

Dawson feels that players like O'Hare might be best utilised out of the worker-bee system that all-encompassing defences demand.

"Donal is an out-and-out attacker, so you keep him dangerous where he is most dangerous," he adds.

While he might be raised in red and black, O'Hare has some precious Armagh blood. His grandfather was Gene Morgan, corner-back on the Armagh side that made the All-Ireland final in 1953 and known as 'The Man With the Golden Hands.' Gene's sister is Margaret McConville, mother of Oisín. The ties that bind . . .

"When he was younger, I was growing up and always seeing Oisín winning trophies whether it be at club or county level. To have that sort of person in my family, it would be a waste not to use it. So I definitely used him a couple of times," he reveals.

He might have needed him this year. McConville played on a few Armagh teams that appeared to be going nowhere until they turned themselves around in the late 90's.

There is a similar feel to Down nowadays, with three different managers in the last three years. A lack of continuity has preceded a dreadful league campaign.

With St Colman's, he won a Hogan Cup in 2010 and has two Down senior Championships meaning that, like several of his teammates, he has experienced that winning feeling.

"It's the same for a lot of the boys," he adds. "We have all won stuff at school level and club level and the next thing is that you want to win something at county level."

He will recall his second game for Down, the nine-point comeback against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final and his own contribution of five pointed frees that inspired it.

Lightning can strike twice. He believes. He has no other choice.

Irish Independent

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