All-Ireland U-20 FC semi-final
Down v Kildare
Saturday, Parnell Park, 7pm (Live on TG4)
By Michael McMullan
IT was a disappointing day for Down on Sunday in Clones, but their u-20s can kick the county back on track in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
The Ulster champions take on last year’s All-Ireland runners-up Kildare who have seven of the team beaten by Tyrone back on board and were extra-time winners over Dublin last week.
Down lost to Roscommon at the same stage two years ago and have Paddy McCarthy, Odhrán Murdock and current Ryan Magill still underage.
The latter’s involvement this weekend will again be in doubt. One of 14 Burren players in the panel, Magill limped out of their Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan after six minutes with a hamstring injury.
He aggravated the injury late in the first half against Derry before being replaced at the break.
“There is a tight turnaround,” Laverty said after the Derry game. “The physio looked at him, so we’ll just assess him.”
Kildare were winners when they met in a challenge game early in the season, with Down losing all three games in the Leo Murphy Cup including a defeat to Tyrone.
Down turned the tables when it mattered in the championship thanks to goals for Oisin Savage and Jason Morgan in a 2-9 to 1-8 victory.
Another star on the night was defender Paddy McCarthy who snuffed out Red Hand dangerman Ruairi Canavan.
Down’s stock rose even further with a comfortable win over Monaghan with Savage also hitting the net with a stylish finish.
Three years ago, Down were beaten by Fermanagh at minor level.
It was a point of reference by manager Conor Laverty and many of his players after their Ulster final last week.
You get the impression the defeat served as a starting point of where gains could be made, especially on the back of being champions two years ago.
Much of the debate around the latter stages of the Ulster Championship surrounded the amended rule restricting players from lining out for both senior and u-20 teams.
Down made the call to ring fence their senior quartet of Murdock, McCarthy, Ryan Magill and Oisin Savage for u-20 duty.
Murdock and Magill sat out the last two rounds of the league, with Murdock a key player with the seniors.
Twice they trailed Derry by three points in the recent u-20 final before hitting an answered 2-5 tally in the last 25 minutes to win the game.
It was a perfectly flighted Callum Rodgers ball that made the 51st minute goal for Murdock to shoot Down ahead for the first time in the game.
The move had the cut of something choreographed on the training field.
Substitute Jamie Doran hit four points against Monaghan and it was his goal that put the tin hat on victory over Derry. Every successful team needs an impact from the bench, but Doran has put his hand up for the start on Saturday.
Down have only conceded one goal in three games and they needed a vital James Kelly intervention to prevent Derry nipping in for the goal they needed to claw themselves into a greater position of strength early in the second half.
A glance at Kildare’s win over Dublin and Ryan Sinkey jumps out straight away as a dangerman.
He looked comfortable kicking off either foot, but it’s hard to see Paddy McCarthy deployed away from goal.
Only regular substitute Eoin Cully has found the net for Kildare in their campaign and they needed to bounce back from defeat in the first group against Westmeath.
If there is one area Down could exploit, it’s goalkeeper Barker’s kick-outs that failed to be a foothold in their Leinster final win.
Laverty will look to how his side were able to close down the spaces Derry used early in the game. When Ben O’Connor was faced with less empty grass to aim at last Wednesday night, Down began to get enough of a grip on the game to stop Derry running further than three points clear.
If Ryan Magill fails to recover it will be a blow to Down’s chances, but they have a very functional team with key players and flair in all the right places.
Kerry and Sligo face off in the other semi-final. If Down can play to their potential and get enough ball to Oisin Savage, Jason Morgan and Callum Rodgers, a spot in the final is within their reach.
THE STORY SO FAR
Down 2-9 Tyrone 0-8
Down 1-17 Monaghan 1-9
Down 2-11 Derry 0-9
Kildare 0-10 Westmeath 2-10
Kildare 0-16 Wexford 0-8
Kildare 0-12 Louth 1-6
Kildare 1-20 Laois 0-9
Kildare 0-16 Dublin 0-13 AET
Down: Oisin Savage 2-19 (13f, 1m), Jamie Doran 1-5, Odhrán Murdock 1-3
Kildare: Shane Farrell 0-18 (14f), Ryan Sinkey 0-12 (2f), Eoin Cully 1-7
Kildare: 13 Leinster and two All-Ireland titles
The Lily Whites – with seven of their 2023 team on board – were on the wrong end an exceptional Tyrone team in last year’s All-Ireland final with 1-7 from Ruairi Canavan shooting the Red Hands to a 1-20 to 1-14 win.
Down: 11 Ulster and one All-Ireland title
Conor Laverty took Down to Ulster glory two years ago before falling to Roscommon six days later, 2-13 to 1-10. Last year, Down had nine of their current team on show when they narrowly went down – by four points – at the hands of eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone in Loughmacrory.