Impressive Derry defeat Down in National League opener in Celtic Park
Allianz National Hurling League, Division 2B
Derry 1-19, Down 0-19
Richie Mullan's early first half goal proved the difference between the sides as Derry hurlers started their Division 2B campaign with a hard fought three point victory over Down in a tight game at Celtic Park on Sunday.
The Oak Leafers enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges and deservedly led 1-11 to 0-07 at the break but were forced to withstand a vastly improved Down display in the second period before claiming a crucial opening weekend victory.
The wins sees John McEvoy's men join Kildare and Roscommon on two points in the fledgling 2B table but the manner of the victory will have pleased the Derry manager as much as the points.
Darragh Cartin, operation in defence, was excellent where Brian Og McGilligan and Eamon McGill excelled with Odhran McKeever and Mullan a constant threat in a mobile Oak Leaf attack that never gave the Down defence a moment's peace.
Experience was the order of the day for McEvoy in a game in which both sets of players knew each other inside out and both were acutely aware of the significance of a good league start.
Alan Grant was Derry's attacking focal point at full forward with the impressive McKeever and Mullan in either corner and giving the Down defence a torrid time. It meant a deeper role for ace marksman Cormac O'Doherty who revelled in the space out the field as he worked his way to a first half tally of 0-8, seven of which came from some outrageously good free-taking.
Down had an impressive free-taker of their own in Oisin McManus but whereas O'Doherty's tally complemented a fluid attacking Oak Leaf outfit, McManus' six frees masked a Down first half in which they struggled to get a foothold. The wind was certainly a factor, as was the bright winter sun, peaking over the terrace at the Brandywell end of the ground into which the Down defence was facing.
That though didn't explain some loose passing out of defence from the Ards men and Derry were in just the mood to punish such opportunities.
Derry also had a not so secret weapon of their own in the form of Kevin Lynch's Sean Kelly, more recognisable for his out the field endeavours for club, but taking the No. 1 jersey for his county. Kelly's huge puck-outs, with the sun behind him, provided the Down defence with an added threat they struggled with throughout the first 35 minutes. Indeed, it was the Derry keeper who can claim the assist on the game's only goal which arrived eight minutes in.
Ironically it was a short puck out Kelly gave to Cartin that proved the catalyst, the corner back returning the ball before the Kevin Lynch's man launched a huge ball down field. It was lost in the sun by Down defender Darragh Mallon but not Richie Mullan, who rounded the keeper and fired first time off the ground across the face of goal and into the far corner.
That gave Derry and 1-02 to 0-02 lead in a half that developed into a shoot-out between O'Doherty and McManus, the Laitroim player's Down's only scorer until a 35th minute sideline cut from Pearse Og McCrickard finally got a second Mourne name on the scoreboard.
By that stage Derry had built a seven point lead at 1-11 to 0-07, Paul Cleary and Odhran McKeever (2) the other players to get their names in the first half scoresheet alongside O'Doherty.
A swirling wind though left the strength of the seven point lead in question and within six minutes of the restart Down had brought themselves right back into the game with points from McManus (2) and Ryan McCusker.
Their momentum has halted by a superb solo run and point from the impressive Eoghan Cassidy for 1-12 to 0-10 but Derry were indebted to keeper Sean Kelly moments later when he raced off his line to brilliantly block Eoghan Sands' effort as he charged through with Eamon McGill bravely blocking the follow up.
It was a let off for Derry and Cormac O'Doherty compounded Down woes by extending the home advantage to 1-13 to 0-10 to seemingly see Derry take a grip on proceedings.
Down had other ideas though and three McManus points, two from frees and one from a '65' changed the complexion of the game once more with only a single score between them as we approached the final quarter at 1-13 to 0-13.
It was Derry's turn to hit three in a row, two more for O'Doherty and a lovely effort from Conor Kelly as the pendulum swung back in the home side's favour.
Ten minutes remaining and Derry led by six once more but again Down rallied, Conor Woods and McManus hitting frees before McCusker brought it back to 1-16 to 0-16.
Derry's ability to dig in once more saw the Oak Leafers respond as they would each time Down asked question in the final minutes. This time it was O'Doherty edging the home advantage to four points.
John McManus reduced it again but within seconds Thomas Brady replied for Derry at the opposite end before blotting his copy book by picking up a booking that would come back to haunt him seconds after splitting the posts.
The ability to respond to a Down score kept derry out of reach, O'Doherty hitting Derry's final point, after selling an outrageous dummy, from wide out along the left touchline. It was superb.
Brady picked up a second booking in injury time and Down mounted the expected late charge but when bodies needed to be put on the line, Derry were not short of volunteers to register two points that could be crucial as they head to London on week two
Derry scorers: Richie Mullan (1-0), Cormac O'Doherty, (0-13, 11f), Odhran McKeever (0-2), Paul Cleary (0-1), Eoghan Cassidy (0-1), Conor Kelly (0-1), Thomas Brady (0-1),
Down scorers: Oisin McManus (0-13, 11f, 1 '65'), Pearse Og Crickard (0-1, 1sl), Ryan McCusker (0-2), Conor Woods (0-1, 1f), John McManus (0-1), Tom Murray (0-1),
Derry: Sean Kelly, Paddy Kelly, Sean Cassidy, Darragh Cartin, Brian Og McGilligan, Eamon McGill, Conor Kelly, Eoghan Cassidy, Paul Cleary, Thomas Brady, Cormac O'Doherty, Tiernan McHugh, Odhran McKeever, Alan Grant, Richie Mullan.
(Subs) Jerome McGuigan for A Grant, HT; Stefan McCloskey for P Cleary, 52mins; Bliadhan Glass for O McKeever, 60mins; Darragh McCloskey for R Mullan, 69mins;
Yellow Cards: Eamon McGill, 49mins; Paul Cleary, 51mins; S Cassidy, 62mins; T Brady, 68 & 73mins; C O'Doherty, 74mins.
Red Cards: T Brady, 73mins
Down: Stephen Keith, Darragh Mallon, Caolan Taggart, Pearse Og McCrickard, John McManus, Conor Woods, PJ Davidson, Matt Conlon, Phelim Savage, Liam Savage, Danny Toner, Oisin McManus, Gerard Hughes, Eoghan Sands, Tim Prenter.
(Subs) Tom Murray for P Savage, HT; Ryan McCusker for PJ Davidson, HT; Chris Egan for P McCrickard, 47mins; Ronan Costello for T Prenter, 55mins;
Yellow Cards: T Prenter, 44mins; C Taggart, 46mins;
Referee: Colm McDonald (Antrim)