DOWN boss Paddy Tally admitted that Saturday’s 13-point defeat to Mayo was a tough pill to swallow, as Sunday’s clash against Meath becomes crucial, writes Steve Malone.
It was always going to be a hard task, but with injury ruling out top scorer Donal O’Hare, captain Darren O’Hagan starting on the bench and Mayo’s All-Ireland finals experience, it made it even tougher.
“Overall, it was a very tough experience,” said Tally.
“It was a big step up from what they have played over the last couple of years in terms of the National League. Last year we were playing Division Three and then today we played a team that aren’t really Division Two team, Mayo are one of the top four teams in the country and have been over the past seven or eight years.
“There is a big gap in the quality of the opposition, and it was also our first competitive match after a very short run-in. All in all, it was a chastening experience, but they’ll definitely learn from.”
Played in Castlebar on Saturday, Down started brightly with Mayobridge’s Corey Quinn looking dangerous, Barry O’Hagan making runs, young Ryan McEvoy making telling tackles and the Guinness brothers James and Daniel bringing the game to Mayo. Kevin McKernan and Caolan Mooney picked out some lovely long ball passes and with 13 minutes gone the sides were level at 0-04 each.
However, in the same minute Young Player of the Year nominee Tommy Conroy rattled his slow low into his right corner of the net and Down started to wobble. Mayo cranked up the intensity and Fionn almost bagged a second goal, but Down keeper Rory Burns pulled off a great save.
With Cillian O’Connor in fine free-taking form Down were punished for any indiscretion in defence. Ryan O’Donoghue, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jordan Flynn and Conroy tagged on points as Barry O’Hagan’s to converted frees left Down trailing 0-06 to 1-10 at the break.
Down struggled in the middle and they couldn’t live with Mayo’s pace and power and when Ryan O’Donoghue struck Mayo’s second goal on 40 minutes the game was up.
Barry O’Hagan chipped away with some lovely points and McEvoy might have netted but he blazed his shot wide while under pressure from the Mayo defence. Sleet was hammering down as Mayo’s led stretched to 2-10 to 0-08 at the second water-break.
Down manager Tally brought on his full quota of substitutes and they all impressed with Kerr being persistently fouled. Paul Devlin converted a free and then another substitute Clonduff’s Stephen McConville struck the net.
“I think it was important that the seven boys on the bench came on, it is so important because we only have so few games in the league and so few opportunities for players to play and if you don’t make changes then when are you going to see players,” Tally said.
“Obviously, players want to the opportunity to play county football and they want the opportunity to see how they get on and to show what they can do at this level. I am delighted with the input of the players that came off the bench and they all equipped themselves well.”
Indeed, down could have reduced the gap to six points with still ten minutes to play but Barry O’Hagan failed to connect to the ball the back post for a certain goal. Mayo took heed and finished strongly with Cillian O’Connor finishing with a personal tally of 0-08, including seven frees.
For Down they have got a taste of top flight football and the Mourne boss said he’ll look for the positives ahead of Sunday’s clash against Meath.
“There are opportunities we didn’t take and also, we made a lot of mistakes and some unforced errors,” said Tally.
“Mayo brought a level of intensity to some parts of the game that Down couldn’t match and that is gained through experienced too. It is a great thing to have experience and to understand and know how these games are played and we are still learning the ropes, a lot of Down players are learning the ropes.
“The boys will be very disappointed but and it will be hard to draw the positives but it’s football, that’s sport and today will certainly be a learning experience for Down.”