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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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Seeking Croke Park league glory after wife's success as All-Ireland camogie captain

Darren O’Hagan could lead the Mourne County to league promotion this weekend.

DOWN CAPTAIN DARREN O’Hagan watched from the Hogan Stand as his wife, Paula, lifted Clonduff’s first-ever All-Ireland title a fortnight ago.

pjimage Busy sporting times for Down couple. Source: INPHO

A club steeped in the county’s rich GAA tradition, reaction to The Yellas’ intermediate camogie final victory over Waterford’s Galltír was one to savour and sparked festivities in Hilltown, a village standing at the base of the Mourne mountains.

Clonduff, Down senior football champions on nine occasions, has produced figures central to the county’s five All-Ireland wins, Ross Carr and Kevin Mussen to name but two, the latter having skippered their maiden Sam Maguire triumph, in 1960.

This weekend, O’Hagan can lead the Ulster side to an immediate promotion back to Division Two, should they overcome Carlow and other results go their way. The bigger prize, though, would be a decider date at HQ and, of course, the potential for husband and wife to have climbed the Hogan Stand steps just four weeks apart.

“We’re flat out with sport, we’re putting everything we have into sport,” Darren says of the O’Hagans’ current situation.

Paula Gribben lifts the trophy Paula Gribben lifts the All-Ireland intermediate camogie club trophy. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He isn’t to be drawn on it any further, playing the conservative captain’s role; a manager’s dream, it would seem. The next game, the trip to Carlow, is the focal point in any topic of conversation.

A survivor of the Down team that reached the 2010 All-Ireland final, this has been O’Hagan’s first experience of league football outside the top two tiers. Their last plunge into the third grade was in 2009, one of two years in which the defender served as an U21 player under Carlow coach Steven Poacher.

They escaped the division’s clutches 10 years ago, with Tally as the team’s trainer, so things have pretty much come full circle and the Tyrone man’s rebuilding process has been positive, thus far, O’Hagan admits. Since losing to Laois in round one, Down have won five matches consecutively.

“Paddy has brought in a lot of youth and has a squad of 35-plus fellas. He’s used 33 players in the league across five matches so he’s giving everyone a chance.

“I think in Down people expected us to be going and winning games by 10 or 15 points in Division Three, but that was never going to happen. You’re lucky if you get a [one] point win because they’re just difficult, dogged games, and there’s plenty of talent in the county [to achieve that].

Paddy Tally New Down manager Paddy Tally. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You see with Dublin, they haven’t won loads of minors and underage, but Jim Gavin is able to introduce two or three new players into the senior team every year.

“I think that was something that was missing for a couple of years. We were sticking to our 17 or 18 players that they [management] felt were strong enough to see out games, rather than trying to blood new fellas. But Paddy has given younger lads a chance.”

The Poacher link is most attractive in advance of Saturday’s trek to Netwatch Cullen Park, especially given that O’Hagan went on record with Gaelic Life last winter to canvass for the Mourne native to be appointed the county’s manager.

Players’ sway in such matters isn’t definitive, he concedes, with the bricklayer more than happy with the “professionalism” implemented by Tally, whom he worked under during James McCartan’s successful four-season stint.

“We all know Steven Poacher, but he’s with the other team and managers can only do and drive you so much.

“I would have had two years of U21 football under him and played against him in schools football and club football.

“He’s a top coach, there is no doubt about it, and he’s doing a good job with Carlow. He’s done well with every team he’s gone to.

Steven Poacher Down native Steven Poacher has helped to improve Carlow's fortunes since taking over as team coach. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Carlow are one of the teams who have really progressed over the last few years. Getting out of Division Four last year was massive for them and two wins [against Down and Laois] and they’ll be looking at going on to nine points; that’d give them a brave shout at promotion.

“It’s not going to be a dead-rubber [this weekend], they’ve as much to play for as us.”

O’Hagan says that suffering relegation, with six points, last year has taught the more experienced members of the panel to refrain from looking too deep into the future, but promotion and Jones’ Road, as it stands, is within a touchable distance.

And a win this weekend could nudge the Clonduff man closer to following in the footsteps of his wife…

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