Clinical Kildare bring an end to Down's mini-revival as relegation fears resurface
Allianz Football League Division Two: Down 0-10 Kildare 2-9
From Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler
DOWN’S dreams of breaking away from the Division Two relegation dogfight suffered a hammer blow on Saturday night as second half goals from supersub David Slattery saw Kildare bring a halt to the Mourne County’s mini-revival.
Trailing by just a point after a close first half, Eamonn Burns’s men were caught on the hop as Kildare landed 1-1 within the opening two minutes to grab the game by the scruff.
Lilywhites boss Cian O’Neill sent on David Slattery for Cathal McNally at the break and the Confey man responded by finding the back of the net with his first touch. It was the kind of quick dividend from a switch managers can only dream of.
Slattery wasn’t done yet either, landing Kildare’s killer second goal with a clever finish 15 minutes from time, a blow from which Down never truly recovered.
“For long periods we were in the game but they got a very good start to the second half and that gave them a bit of breathing space,” said Burns, who is awaiting news on Darren O’Hagan after the Down captain limped off late on.
“Physically they’re a big strong team and they ran the ball very well. We faced it up quite well, we knew what was coming down the line but they got the scores at crucial times to win the game.”
If victory over Meath three weeks ago lifted a huge burden from their shoulders, and dispatching Derry with ease allowed for momentary giddiness, then this was a leveller that quelled the red and black’s rising tide.
As the reaction to those two wins was mitigated by the quality of the opposition, so too must be analysis in defeat. Kildare are a strong outfit across the field – tall, powerful, quick and mobile, they are by far the best unit Burns’s men have come up against in 2017.
Saturday’s defeat doesn’t even bear comparison with those suffered at the hands of Fermanagh and Clare in the first two games. Then, the Mournemen looked like a rudderless ship whereas on Saturday night, Down were defensively solid, well organised and motivated.
Where their game-plan fell down was in failing to get bodies forward quickly enough to support the lonesome Barry O’Hagan up top. Far too often he found himself chasing lost causes into the corners after wayward passes from team-mates.
That is no reflection on O’Hagan who started well but as soon as Kildare captain Eoin Doyle moved back to screen the area in front of him, the Clonduff forward was fighting a losing battle.
It was no wonder the Leinster men eventually opted to deploy a sweeper though as Down and O’Hagan came flying out of the blocks and, after a patient build-up, he swept the ball over with two minutes on the clock.
O’Hagan was in the thick of things again less than 60 seconds later.
Winning the ball on the edge of the square he laid it off to the onrushing Ryan Johnston and the Kilcoo man – normally deadly in front of goal – saw his shot blocked by the legs of Michael Donnellan between the sticka.
The Lilywhites levelled matters with a sweetly-struck 45 from Donellan and although O’Hagan temporarily restored Down’s lead 13 minutes in, a Tommy Moolick bomb from deep and two frees from the excellent Kevin Feely got the Lilywhites’ noses in front.
With Daniel Flynn dropping deep and Niall Kelly pulling the strings, Kildare were settling into the game and looked to have sussed Down out as half-time neared.
Darragh O’Hanlon’s close-range free left just a point in it at the break but, within minutes of the restart, disaster had struck for Down.
First, Feely kicked his third free of the night 40 seconds after throw-in - this one with his right having used his left for the others - before sub Slattery’s sucker-punch a minute later, firing low to Michael Cunningham’s right with his first touch of the evening.
“We always say to the subs ‘make an impact, make a difference’ – his impact was just phenomenal,” said Kildare boss Cian O’Neill.
Yet two breathtaking points from Caolan Mooney looked to be the perfect riposte, the Rostrevor speedster whipping his arms in the air as a sudden buzz went around Pairc Esler.
Five minutes later though, Slattery struck again. This time playmaker Kelly weighted a beautiful fist-pass through the Down defence and Slattery got there just before Cunningham, impudently flicking the ball wide of the Castlewellan netminder with the outside of his right boot.
The teams went score for score after that as Down struggled to make a serious dent in their opponents, and their chances of landing a much-needed goal suffered a severe blow when sub Alan Davidson was black carded eight minutes after coming on.
Indeed, Down had used all their substitutes by the time injury forced Darren O’Hagan from the field. And when Jerome Johnston – sprung from the bench to replace Davidson – was also shown a black card, the Mournemen played out the final, often tempestuous, few minutes with 13 men.
It was a niggly, disjointed end to a game that only ever threatened to catch fire now and again, but it is a result that leaves Kildare looking good to secure a second promotion in-a-row while Down’s relegation worries return.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly,” said Lilywhites boss O’Neill.
“Today was always going to be a dogfight and the lads dug in and really put in a huge second half there.
“We just made it as difficult for them as they were making it for us because they had 14 behind the ball and that’s tough, let me tell you.”
Down: M Cunningham; R McAleenan, B McArdle, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (0-4, frees), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-2); A Carr, P Turley; K McKernan (0-1), C Maginn, J Murphy; S Millar, B O’Hagan (0-2), R Johnston. Subs: A Davidson for R Johnston (55), N Donnelly for A Carr (57), M Poland for C Maginn (65), S Dornan for S Millar (69), C Magee for P Turley (69)
Black cards: J Johnston (0-1) replaced A Davidson (63), J Johnston (74, no replacement)
Yellow cards: S Millar (40), M Poland (76)
Kildare: M Donnellan (0-1, 45); M O’Grady, D Hyland, O Lyons (0-1); J Byrne, E Doyle, K Cribbin; K Feely (0-5, frees), T Moolick (0-1); F Conway, N Kelly, P Cribbin (0-1); C McNally, D Flynn, C Hartley. Subs: D Slattery (2-0) for C McNally (HT), F Dowling for C Hartley (55), E Callaghan for D Slattery (65), E Heavey for T Moolick (68), S Ryan for F Conway (70), L Healy for E Doyle (75)
Yellow cards: E Doyle (19), M O’Grady (71), M Donnellan (74)
Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)