Dr McKenna Cup Round 1
Down 2-10 Monaghan 0-12
By Niall McCoy
THE Conor Laverty era started in impressive fashion as they travelled to Castleblayney and recorded a deserved four-point win over Monaghan.
On a night when Vinny Corey was also making his bow as Fareny manager, the unlimited subs rule and some hard to read jerseys left fans and journalists scratching their heads at times, but Laverty would have been watching close enough to know that he has plenty of clay to mould with.
Down took a 1-6 to 0-6 lead into the turn with a mixture of the old and new causing real problems for the Monaghan defence.
The experienced Barry O’Hagan unlocked the Farney defence constantly with a series of clever fist passes to release team-mates, youngster Andrew Gilmore, who caught the eye in a 2022 breakthrough season, looked dangerous while debutant Donagh McAleenan delivered a series of smart balls from the half-forward line.
Corey’s side were just a little less polished although in Michael Banningan, Sean Jones and Karl Gallagher they had game performances.
It was Banningan who opened the scoring with a free before O’Hagan responded after a clever pass from Warrenpoint’s McAleenan.
Another Bannigan free, after Jones was fouled, put the hosts back ahead before McAleenan tapped over with his left after fine interplay between a number of Mourne players.
Laverty’s Kilcoo were renowned for flooding bodies back and breaking at speed, but in that opening half with the wind in their favour, they kept plenty up front too.
Gilmore put them ahead for the first time after Shane Hanratty coughed up a free 10 minutes in, but a moment of magic from Jones seconds later levelled things again as he clipped over with his left from a seemingly impossible angle.
Another brilliant score followed minutes later as Bannigan, start of the opening quarter, boomed over from 40 metres against the breeze.
The first goal of the Laverty reign arrived after 16 minutes and if it’s a sign of things to come, Down fans have a right to be excited.
The now familiar McAleenan-O’Hagan combo was in force again, the latter delivering a brilliant fist pass to send Ryan Magill away. The Burren youngster fisted across goal where two Down players where present to palm home, and it was Gilmore who had the honour as Shay Millar also waited to pounce.
Another fine Jones effort after moving between two players left it 0-5 to 1-3, but they were lucky not to concede a second goal with O’Hagan again splitting the Monaghan backline with a fist pass. Pierce Laverty was the recipient, but the full-back fisted to a white jersey when trying to play the ball across goal.
O’Hagan did fist over soon after, and they could have had a penalty too after goalkeeper Darren McDonnell slid into a tackle, but referee Conall Roberts wasn’t interested.
Another O’Hagan free put Down three clear and Gilmore and Conor McCarthy frees, after a storming run through the middle by Killian Lavelle, left the interval score 1-6 to 0-6 in Down’s favour.
Down’s start to the second half was perfect and it came via the boot of one of their most exciting youngsters as Odhran Murdock raced through the centre of the Monaghan defence and finished low form distance. A fine, emphatic finish.
Corey’s side responded well, midfielder Francie Hughes picking up the scraps to point, Stephen O’Hanlon landing a brilliant left-footed effort seconds after being introduced and Bannigan landing a 45.
That left three points between them, but they required McDonnell to keep himself big 52 minutes in to deny Shane Annett before Murdock did add to the Down tally with a fine score. Michael Ireland added another from a fine mark after coming on to leave Down five clear heading into the final quarter.
Livewire O’Hanlon responded with another beautiful score, and in the 61st minute substitute Shane Carey kicked over brilliantly from a very difficult angle.
Monaghan pushed forward in the final few minutes in search of an equalising goal as a series of spats broke out over the pitch, but it was the cultured left foot of Rory Mason that settled matters with a fine score to put Down four ahead.
McCarthy’s close-range score did give Monaghan hope of a levelling goal, but Patrick Branagan kicked over with the last play to secure a four-point win for Down.
Monaghan: Michael Bannigan 0-4 (0-1f, 0-1 45)Sean Jones 0-2, Stephen O’Hanlon 0-2, Conor McCarthy 0-2 (0-1f), Shane Carey 0-1, Francis Hughes 0-1
Down: Andrew Gilmore 1-2 (0-2f), Odhran Murdock 1-1, Barry O’Hagan 0-3 (0-1f), Donagh McAleenan 0-1, Rory Mason 0-1, Patrick Branagan 0-1, Michael Ireland 0-1
Monaghan: Darren McDonnell; Shane Hanratty, Ryan Wylie, Thomas McPhillips; Darragh Treanor, Killian Lavelle, Kevin Loughran; Francie Hughes, Michael McCarville; Karl Gallagher, Michael Bannigan, Fabian Beggan; Jason Irwin, Conor McCarthy, Sean Jones.
Subs: Shane Slevin for Irwin (HT), Stephen O’Hanlon for Jones (39), Shane Carey for Beggan (51), Fintan Kelly for Gallagher (51), Darragh McElearney for Loughran (56), Colm Lennon for Hughes (54).
Down: John O’Hare; Ryan Magill, Pierce Laverty, Conor Francis; Ruairi McCormack, Niall McParland, Niall Donnelly; Shane Annett, Odhran Murdock; Mark Walsh, Donagh McAleenan, Shay Millar; Ross Carr, Barry O’Hagan, Andrew Gilmore.
Subs: Ceilum Doherty for Walsh (22), Liam Kerr for Millar (46), Owen McCabe for Donnelly (46), Danny Magill for McAleenan (46), Michael Ireland for O’Hagan (54), Paddy McCarthy for Ryan Magill (56), Pat Havern for Annett (58), Rory Mason for Gilmore (67), Tomas McInerney for Carr (67).
Referee: Conall Roberts (Antrim).