Down comeback not enough
Tuesday, 8 April 2014
DOWN'S faint promotion hopes were obliterated by a much hungrier Laois on Sunday and, although the Mourne men displayed a fighting comeback, manager James McCartan has reason to be concerned ahead of the Ulster Championship against Tyrone in less than six weeks.
Having defeated Donegal, Down proceeded to lose to Meath and Laois and while McCartan admitted he used Sunday's match to give players game-time it will probably be used to rule players out of his starting 15 against Tyrone.
Down disappointed in the opening half. Their performance indicated that they had little to play for while obviously Laois fought eagerly to battle for survival in Division Two, which McCartan referred to.
“The first half was very poor and you can't expect to win a game when you can't win your own primary possession. It was very disappointing, we were poor and there is no excuse for the first half performance to be honest," said McCartan.
“They were fighting against relegation and our chances of promotion were slim and maybe that showed in the first half in the attitude of the two teams and it is disappointing to confess that.
“We will try and cling on to the crumbs of comfort that at least in the second half we made a game of it and showed a wee bit of fight still strewn with errors all over the place but displayed some character.
“We got a look at some players, used all our subs and played boys who hadn't played before this year so it gives us an idea what the strength of our panel is."
Strangely the Mourne sat deep for the majority of the half with a lone Benny Coulter playing up front while the remainder of the side bunched the wrong side of halfway. Then when Coulter received a black card on 22 minutes, Donal O'Hare and Niall Madine formed a two-prong attack but there was no delivery.
Down played the first half against a strong wind but to kick only one point in the opening half, and that took 31 minutes, was shocking.
As expected the O'Moore men came roaring out of the traps and were three points up in as many minutes with Conway, Donnie Kingston and big midfielder John O'Loughlin kicking over.
Down's few attempted passing into the forwards went wayward and on each occasion Laois punished with scores.
Ross Munnelly extended Laois' lead but with eight minutes played Down bounced back when a slow patient build up along the third quarter of the pitch allowed O'Hare and Madine to break through and pass to Conor Maginn who coolly slotted into the Laois net.
But Down failed to build on the goal and their keeper Brendan McVeigh was forced to make a save and Laois kicked three wides in a row before Kingston and Conway stretched their lead. Matters worsened for Down when O'Loughlin burst through the heart of Down's defence and blasted in a goal and a minute later Coulter was black carded for a hand trip. The O'Moore men were 1-08 up before O'Hare clipped over a point after a good pass from Madine but Laois finished the half stronger adding another two points.
Half-time: Laois 1-10 Down 1-01
In the second half Down displayed much more urgency. The lively Conor Laverty replaced big Turley at the break and they were a transformed side from the first period with a concerted attacking policy.
Importantly Mark Poland came into the game and the Mourne men displayed purpose.
Laois' Munnelly and O'Hare traded points and Madine floated over a beauty. O'Hare and Munnelly exchanged further converted frees. Down's tails were up and unlike the first half the crowd appreciated the contest.
O'Hare and Conor Garvey struck sweet points to close the gap before O'Hare took a heavy elbow to the head from Laois' full-back Denis Booth, who received a red card.
With O'Hare carried off injured Aidan Carr executed his spot-kick brilliantly to the net and only three points separated the sides.
But with survival instincts kicking in Laois added to their tally through O'Loughlin and Conway.
But Laverty and young Jerome Johnston replied for Down and they came close to bagging a goal but Poland's quick passing in the square found a Laois player.
Down continued to try and engineer a goal and calls for a penalty when Rogers dropped to the ground fell on deaf ears. Laois tagged on another point as did Johnston and when Poland floated over a free with three additional minutes played there were hopes from the Mourne crowd that Down could finish with a late, late goal. And from the resultant kick-out they came close but Rogers' effort was brilliantly blocked.
While the second half was much improved back-to-back defeats is not ideal preparation ahead of the Ulster Championship, which McCartan admitted is in his sights.
“To be honest we had one eye on the Championship at this stage, we spoke about it during the week," he said.
“Maybe as a management we are partly to blame for the players taking their eyes off the ball but in saying that as a collective of players, management and everyone involved we are hugely disappointed with the first half performance and give ourselves too much to do," said McCartan. Injuries are not much of a concern for Wee James but he remains unsure on when Kalum King may return to the team.
“Kalum has been a huge player for us over the past four or five years that I have been here," he said.
"He is a big character in the dressing room and we have started to lose him at the minute and we are hoping that his circumstances may change over the next few weeks but I suppose work takes precedent - you have to earn a living."
LAOIS: Graham Brody, Padraig McMahon, Denis Booth, Peter O'Leary, Darren Strong, Paul Begley, Colm Begley, Kevin Meaney, John O'Loughlin, James Finn, Conor Meredith, Billy Sheehan, Ross Munnelly, Donal Kingston and David Conway.
DOWN: Brendan McVeigh, Dan McCartan, Benny McArdle, Owen Costello, Declan Rooney, Aidan Carr, Conor Garvey, Peter Turley, Ambrose Rogers, Conor Maginn, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter, Donal O'Hare, Niall Madine and Paul Devlin.
Subs used: Kevin McKernan for Coulter (black card) 23', Conor Laverty for Turley ht', Ryan Boyle for Rooney 43', Niall Donnelly for McArdle (black card) 47', Jerome Johnston for O'Hare 55' and Conor Toner for Costello 56'.
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