Down GAA edge closer to League relegation after Galway defeat
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Down 1-13 Galway 3-15
GALWAY pushed Down to the edge of the cliff in a game that made a mockery of the old adage about possession being nine-tenths of the law.
The visitors had won 75 per cent of the game’s kickouts in the first half yet the sides went in level at 0-8 apiece. And when Down won the second half’s restart battle 13-6, they lost the half of football by 3-7 to 1-5.
It was a constant struggle for Down to deal with the aerial menace of Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Paul Conroy in the middle, and Kevin Walsh’s decision to push right up on Michael Cunningham’s restarts left the hosts in a pickle right from the off.
Yet, with Kevin McKernan and Aidan Carr both producing excellent moments in defence to protect the middle of their goal, the sides were inseparable on the scoreboard until the early moments of the second half.
Up until the interval, Down had hung in manfully but were largely reliant of moments of individual brilliance to help them craft scores.
Caolan Mooney hit two outstanding points, and there was a fine score too from Ryan Johnston, but their attacking play was undermined by both a lack of support and quality service to Barry O’Hagan.
He had the Galway defence troubled all day, forcing Kevin Walsh to change his marker twice, but it was too isolated an effort against a side whose promotion hopes lie in their own hands ahead of a final day meeting with Kildare.
With hopes of a badly-needed win rising on the restart, Eamonn Burns’ side were dealt two major blows in the space of a minute.
First Eamonn Brannigan slotted home a penalty after Michael Cunningham had fouled Gary Sice as he attempted to gather a spilled cross from Shane Walsh.
There were no doubt about the penalty award but the black card for the Down goalkeeper was harsh given that his attempt was to win the ball.
His replacement Marc Reid couldn’t find touch with his first kickout, putting it over the sideline and from the early diagonal ball to Sice came a second goal for the onrushing Shane Walsh.
That fine low finish after 41 minutes made it 2-8 to 0-8 in Galway’s favour but for the next ten minutes, Down dominated.
Ryan Johnston hit a fine score before Declan Kyne was sent off for an apparent strike in an off-the-ball incident with the livewire Barry O’Hagan.
Although Gary O’Donnell, who was an excellent outlet for Galway throughout, kicked a fine score, it looked like game on when O’Hagan finished wonderfully at the other end.
Johnston, whose industry and effort were a shining light, picked out O’Hagan with the long ball and the Clonduff man availed of the referee’s advantage to squeeze away from Michael Farragher and slide a daisycutter beautifully past Rory Lavelle.
Kevin McKernan took a magnificent fetch from the kickout and left the ball straight into O’Hagan, who fed Johnston through on goal, but the Galway netminder made a superb stop to keep their lead intact.
It was the game’s seminal moment. Cathal Magee’s 45 went wide and Down missed three further chances to really exert some serious pressure on Galway before the comeback started to unravel.
Despite having an extra man, Down were left chasing the game and were wide to the world in defence at times in the last half hour, with Gary Sice taking particular advantage.
The home side would win the kickout battle hands down in the second half, but largely because of the red card allowing them a spare man on their own restarts.
“Kickouts are a two-way street – you have a kicker and a receiver. If the guys aren’t moving for the kickout then you’ve got problems,” admitted Down boss Eamonn Burns afterwards.
“Galway we knew would present problems if they kicked long to the middle of the field, we knew we’d have to try and compete to break them. Kildare did the same the week before. It’s something we have to work on. We have what we have, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”
Galway’s attacking play lacked the incision that Shane Walsh and Sice were able to offer Galway, who played magnificently on the counter in the final 20 minutes.
Two superb efforts from Barry McHugh off the ground, one a 50-metre free and the other a 45, pushed them back into a position of comfort after Darragh O’Hanlon had kicked Down back to within a goal again, 1-10 to 2-10, on 55 minutes.
And the third goal that put the seal on it came three minutes from time when Galway were awarded a second penalty after Paul Conroy was fouled as he went to shoot.
Eamonn Brannigan went for the same spot as from his first effort but was denied by Marc Reid, but he couldn’t get himself turned quite quickly enough to stop the Galway forward hammering home the rebound.
Darragh O’Hanlon kicked three late scores to take his tally from a productive afternoon to 0-8, but the Pairc Esler crowd had long been silenced by then.
The defeat leaves Down needing a last-day victory in Cork to give themselves a shot at survival, though even that wouldn’t guarantee their safety if other results went against them.
Down: M Cunningham; R McAleenan, B McArdle, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (0-8, 0-5frees), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-2); A Carr, P Turley; K McKernan, C Maginn, J Murphy; S Millar (0-1), B O’Hagan (1-0), R Johnston (0-2)
Subs: C Magee for Carr (47), J Johnston for Murphy (50), P Devlin for Millar (55)
Black card replacements: M Reid for Cunningham (36), J Flynn for Mooney (70)
Yellow cards: B O’Hagan (35), C Maginn (58), R McAleenan (67)
Galway: R Lavelle; D Wynne, D Kyne (0-1), C Sweeney; G O’Donnell (0-2), M Farragher (0-1), J Heaney; P Conroy (0-1free), F Ó Curraoin; T Flynn, S Walsh (1-2), E Brannigan (2-1, 1-0pen); G Sice (0-3, 0-1free), B McHugh (0-3, 0-2frees, 0-1 45), S Armstrong
Subs: L Silke for Wynne (39), M Lundy for Armstrong (51), D Cummins for Walsh (68), G Bradshaw for McHugh (69), R Steede for Brannigan (75)
Yellow cards: D Wynne (28), E Brannigan (44), P Conroy (52)
Red card: D Kyne (44)
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)