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Down were sent crashing out of the Ulster Championship at the first hurdle after they were mauled by Donegal in a one-sided affair at Pairc Esler.

Paddy Tally’s side went into the game with injured midfielder Jonny Flynn and leading forward Donal O’Hare and, despite the best efforts of Clonduff’s Barry O’Hagan who finished with eight points including five from play, the Mournemen were a distant second best on the day. 

Disappointed Down players leave the field on Sunday
Disappointed Down players leave the field after losing out to Donegal at Pairc Esler. Photograph: Brendan Monaghan

Donegal absorbed the loss of talisman and captain Michael Murphy after 25 minutes and a black card shown to Stephen McMenamin that reduced that to 14 men either side of half-time. 

Jamie Brennan (Murphy’s replacement) seized on a Caolan Mooney fumble to score Donegal’s first goal late in the first half and, although Mooney goaled for Down with a fine finish after the break, goalkeeper Shaun Patton denied Ryan McEvoy and Paddy McBrearty’s goal and the red card shown to Down full-back Gerard McGovern meant the game was over as a contest long before the finish. 

Afterwards manager Tally – who has completed three years at the helm – remained undecided over his future while Donegal, who had 10 scorers on the day and dominated the midfield battle, can now look forward to an Ulster quarter-final against north-west neighbours Derry in a fortnight’s time. 

Down have been without a number of players this season including Kilcoo’s Johnston brothers (Ryan and Jerome), Shay and Ronan Miller from Glenn and Conor Poland and, after the loss, Tally said that the current provincial Championship has had its day.

“I’ve been saying for years that the system is flawed,” said the Tyrone native. 

“There is a massive gap in the quality of the teams but the system doesn’t suit competitive football so I hope that the GAA sits down and realise that they have to change this. Otherwise what we’ll have is more players wondering: ‘Do we want to be part of this? Is there any chance of winning anything? Do we have a hope being successful?’ 

Down's Barry O'Hagan Donegal's Eoghan Ban Gallagher. Photograph: Brendan Monaghan
Down's Barry O'Hagan tries to escape the attention of Donegal's Eoghan Ban Gallagher. Photograph: Brendan Monaghan

“It’s getting to the stage where it’s very difficult to break through and we’re finding that today.”

Down’s season has ended on the first weekend of Championship action after just five games and Tally argues that the limited amount of game-time available does not allow ambitious counties to develop players. 

“I’m a big believer in playing matches,” he said. 

“Even in a normal season you would be doing well to get 12 – seven in the League and if you got another five in the Championship you’d be doing fantastic but that’s still not a lot of games for six months’ of training. Let’s get more games! 

“Run the competitions so the players have more matches and then you might have players who have the patience to stick at it and commit.”

Ulster SFC preliminary round final score: Down 1-12 Donegal 2-25

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