Controversial late Down free denies Derry victory in Ballycan
Allianz Hurling Leagues, Division 2A
Down 0-23, Derry 1-20
Pearse Óg McCrickard’s controversial free deep into added time denied Derry a deserving first win of the season at a wind swept Ballycran.
In what was effectively a relegation play-off, Sunday’s draw means neither county will know their fate until after the final round of fixtures next weekend when Down face Kerry and Derry are back on the road to face Carlow. However, with a much better points difference, it will be the Mourne men who carry the advantage going into next Sunday’s games.
The draw was enough to earn Johnny McGarvey’s new look Oakleafers their first point of the season, but given the circumstances it felt much more like another loss.
Five points behind at the break, Derry battled manfully back into the game and when Ségdae Melaugh teed up John Mullan for the second of his three-points in the 64th minute, it looked like the visitors were on course for the win that would’ve ensured Division 2A hurling for another season.
But in the fifth minute of added time, referee Sean Stack harshly penalised Sean Cassidy for an illegal hand pass, and McCrickard duly accepted the ‘Get of Jail’’ card.
It’s been a tough learning curve for the Oak Leaf class of 2023 but they are showing signs of improvement with each passing week. Up against an experienced Down back division, Cormac Gough, John Mullan and James Friel tormented the home defence all afternoon. Their constant movement allowed playmaker Cormac O’Doherty to hit the wings were he continually picked out a red and white jersey.
Mullan dropped into a deeper role in the second half with Corey O’Reilly advancing further up the pitch. The move worked a treat as both players finished with three points to their name. On another
day however, it could have been more.
At the other end an experienced spin of Mark Craig, Richie Mullan, Paul Cleary and Sean Cassidy restricted Down to zero goal chances. Instead, the home side had to relay on the accuracy of Paul Sheehan and McCrickard. This duo went on to contribute 0-14 of Down’s total with 10 of these coming from placed balls.
The wind blew strong from the first whistle to the last on the scenic venue on the Ards Peninsula but given what was at stake, the air was also filled with tension from start to finish too.
Both sides were a little guilty of taking an extra second in possession and reluctant to run the ball meaning goal chances were off the menu.
On one occasion Derry did run at the Down defence – and it came in the first minute after Liam Savage had just opened the scoring for the home team. Cormac Gough was first on to a long puck and his run towards the Down goal was brought to a crashing halt by John McManus.
Referee Stack deemed the foul, which was inside the 21m line to be of the cynical type. Stack showed McManus a black card which also meant Derry were awarded a penalty. Up stepped O’Doherty to drive home to the net and Derry held a slender two-point lead.
But that lead was quickly wiped out as Down went about to make full use of the elements. McCrickard expertly split the posts with from a sideline ball before Sheehan and Prenter shot Down into an early lead.
James Friel was showing no signs of fatigue after playing for Derry U20s on Saturday with a score in the ninth minute. But it was the home side who continued to make the scoreboard operator work. Five points in as many minutes saw Down register their ninth score of the game by the 14th minute.
Five-points remained the gap up until half time with Down leading 0-14 to 1-6, but given the conditions, Derry were more than happy to be within arm’s length of their hosts.
Down managed to keep their noses in front during the third quarter as efforts from Oisin McManus and Sheehan cancelled out two frees from O’Doherty and two efforts from play by O’Reilly.
As the game ticked ever closer to its end, Derry grew stronger and stronger. O’Reilly and Mullan struck before three O’Doherty efforts levelled the game for the first time since the sixth minute.
Daithi Sands nudged Down back in front but O’Doherty and Mullan looked to had won it for Derry as the clocked ticked past the three allotted minutes of additional time.
But play continued and in the 75 th minute, McCrickard knocked over his eighth point of the game to steal a point for the homeside.
Down: Stephen Keith, John McManus, Barry Trainor, Tom Murray, Mark Fisher (0-2), Matt Conlon, Caolan Teggart, Liam Savage, Finn Turpin, Ryan McCusker, Paul Sheehan (0-6f), Pearse Óg McCrickard (0-8, 3f 1 sideline) Oisin McManus (0-1), Chris Egan, Tim Prenter (0-3). Subs: Niall McFarland for Trainor (HT), Daithi Sands (0-1) for McManus (52), Jordan Doran for Murray (55), Tom McGrattan for Sheehan (58), Stuart Martin for Tim Prenter (58).
Derry: Oisin O’Doherty, Sean Francis Quinn, Mark Craig, Daire Kelly, Eamon Conway, Richie Mullan, Sean Cassidy, Meehaul McGrath, Paul Cleary, Corey O’Reilly (0-3), Cormac O’Doherty (1-10 1-0 pen, 8f), James Friel (0-2), Cormac Gough (0-1), John Mullan (0-3), Darragh McGilligan (0-1). (Subs) Ségdae Melaugh for Conway (48), Callum O’Kane for Friel (62), Pádhraig Neilis for Gough (69).
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin).