Allianz National Hurling League Division 2B
Derry 1-14, Down 2-17
Derry's National Hurling League Division 2B campaign started with a six point defeat to a Down team who have put themselves in the early 'box seat' for promotion.
With Oak Leaf manager Collie McGurk absent due to work commitments, Kevin Kelly took charge of a very young Derry side who showed enough in the first half to suggest there is reason for optimism, especially when the Slaughtneil contingent return to the fold.
Down's more experienced players, Danny Toner especially took control after the break, when Derry's inexperience probably cost them. Turning around to play with the wind, Derry were only five points behind but were guilty of trying to rush things with the visitors getting their goals at just the right time.
Down started with the benefits of the breeze behind them but there was precious little between the sides in an even half.
The Celtic Park pitch was a credit considering the amount of rain it has taken over the previous few days but conditions underfoot were still difficult for both sets from players.
Collie McGurk's side showed only four of the team that started against Armagh in last season's Nicky Rackard but Down themselves have also seen their fair share of changes from 2017.
It was nip and tuck in the early stages with no side managing to establish a two point lead before Down's Danny Toner grabbed the half's only goal on 20 minutes.
Paul Sheehan got the scoreboard up and running but Oisin McCloskey soon equalised after an outrageous reverse pass through his own legs by Alan Grant.
The tit-for-tat nature of the scoring continued as the impressive Declan McManus and Derry keeper Michael Kirkpatrick (free) swapped points, Sheehan and Oisin McCloskey doing likewise from a pass by Naoise Waldron who was performing the playmaking and target man role.
Alan Grant grabbed his first score of the game but in keeping with a tight half, McManus made it 0-4 a-piece before the visitors hit 1-2 in two minutes to manufacture a lead that had looked unlikely until that point.
And Toner was the instigator, first nipping in ahead of Derry No. 1 Kirkpatrick to get the final touch to a long ball to find the net before tagging on another point. When McManus added another pint suddenly Down had a 1-6 to 0-4 lead.
Derry responded through four Grant frees without reply to bring it back to a one point deficit but a late brace of points from Sheehan gave Down a 1-09 to 0-08 interval lead.
Toner's influence was growing for the visitors as he registered the first score of the second half. Grant replied but on 43 minutes Toner had his second goal after robbing Kirkpatrick 25 yards from goal and drilling a low finish to the net to establish a 2-10 to 0-9 lead.
It could have been better when he was on on goal again seconds later with only a breathtaking goal line clearance from Banagher's Jack Phelan denying him his hat-trick.
With Sheehan continuing his superb display from frees, Down had the game exactly where they wanted it and seldom looked like letting it slip despite Grant doing his best to match from placed balls. Both free takers had a n exemplary afternoon but it was the Down man who had the scoring support, notably from Toner.
The last quarter played out to script, Down controlling matters and always having enough to keep a Derry side not lacking in fight at arm's length. Oisin McCloskey received a second yellow card for a tussle with Caolan Teggart before substitute Breandan Quigley grabbed a late consolation goal for Derry.
The victory will put Down into pole position for a tilt at promotion but on this evidence, both teams have a way to go before they should be thinking of the higher grade.
Derry: Michael Kirkpatrick (0-1, 1f); Colm Murphy, Darragh McCloskey, Eoin Gilmore; Paul Cleary, Ciaran Steele, Jack Phelan; John Mullan, Niall Smyth (0-1); Alan Grant (0-10, 9f), Oisin McCloskey (0-2), Thomas Magee; Darragh Cartin, Naoise Waldron, Odhran McKeever.
(Subs) for Aodhan O'Donnell for O McKeever, 48mins; Breandan Quigley (1-0) for D Cartin. 57mins; Seamus Higgins for N Smyth, 57mins;
Down: Stephen Keith; Brook Byers, Caolan Teggart, Michael Hughes; John McManus, Mark Fisher, Liam Savage; Caolan Bailie, Danny Toner (1-2); Rian Branagan (0-1), Declan McManus (0-4), Pearse Og McCrickard; Malachy Magee, Paul Sheehan (0-10, 8f), Eoghan Sands.
(Subs) Matthew Conlan for R Branagan, 65mins; aaron O'Prey for E Sands, 70mins; Oisin McManus for D Toner, 70mins;
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway)