By Peter T. Nolan
Derry opened their inaugural Junior A football season impressively, pulling away from Down en route to an 8-point victory over their Ulster rivals Sunday at Gaelic Park.
Derry were well-prepared for their step up in class after a winter well spent on the training ground. Ruari O’Neill opened the scoring for Derry with an opportunistic point off a miss-hit 50.
Derry were the stronger side early with O’Neill and Darren Doherty taking advantage of some poor kick outs to put the pressure on the Down rearguard. Gary Rocks and J.P. Forbes stretched the advantage to 3 points before Down shook off their winter cobwebs.
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Substitute Darragh Doherty got Down on the ledger after some fine work from Collie Mathers. Excellent football was being played by both sides, and when Aiden Rooney finished a sharp Down move to the twines, the match really took flight.
Down’s powerful forward Colm Farrell drove over his second point of the half to give Down their first lead of the match. Down pounced again, with Kevin Looter snapping up a rebound and rifling home Down’s second goal.
Derry kept their heads and Micheal McClosley and Michael Conway added points before the half to close within two points of the Mournemen.
After an excellent first half, a thriller seemed to be on the cards. But Derry’s superior fitness was apparent throughout the second half as Gary Rocks, Ruari O’Neill, McCloskey and Conway led an all-out assault that Down were unable to cope with. Derry corner forward James McCusker got the score of the match with a great goal from a tough angle. McCloskey added a late goal to cap a dominant Derry second half in which Down could notch only 2 points.
Man of the match: Micheal Conway.
Derry: Martin O’Connor, Noel McGovern, Devin Heaney, Steven Keating, Gary Rocks (0-6), Michael Conway (0-2), Gary Gilespie, Rauri O’Neill (0-1), Darren Doherty, Ian Murray, Michael McCloskey (1-1), Shane Guiden, James McCusker (1-1), J.P. Forbes (0-2), Cormac McIntyre.
Down: Padraig Tunney, Liam Murray, Martin McGivern, Nigel Clarke, Ed Flynn, Martin Turley, Damien Ward, Kevin Flynn, Liam Rooney (0-1), Kieran Rice, Kevin Looter (1-0), Collie Mathers, Damien Quinn, Colm Farrell (0-2), Aiden Rooney (1-0), Subs Darragh Doherty (0-2), Ryan Mulrooney, Ryan Newman.