GAA Football

Luckless Down exit Championship as Cavan win Brewster Park thriller

Connaire Harrison 
Andy Watters at Brewster Park

All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round two: Cavan 1-14 Down 0-15

LUCKLESS Down bowed out of the Championship despite being the better side in Saturday evening’s Brewster Park thriller.

It’s all about the result in the Qualifiers of course and Cavan deserve credit for hanging in there and getting their noses in front at the line, but even their manager Mattie McGleenan admitted that his side “stole it”.

It was impossible to argue with him because almost everything that might have gone wrong for the Mournemen did go wrong although they didn’t help themselves at times either.

Already without the injured Donal O’Hare, the Mournemen lost the experienced core of their team in black-carded Connaire Harrison and Kevin McKernan before half-time and then Caolan Mooney (injured) and Ryan Johnston (a red card) in the second half.

When Johnston was shown the line, with just over 20 minutes to go Down led by four points but disaster struck when goalkeeper Shane Harrison allowed Gearoid McKiernan’s shot to squirm through his fingers and into the net. The Mourne netminder may have been blinded by the early evening sun and his mistake ultimately cost Down the game.

With their four-point cushion reduced to one, the Mournemen were always up against it in the Brewster Park heat. Cavan edged ahead but even then there was a kick in Down – Darren O’Hagan had a chance to win it, or force extra-time, but his piledriver was brilliantly saved by James Farrelly and Cavan held on.

Tempers boiled over after the final whistle with a one-in, all-in melee which saw referee Cormac Reilly, who got the bird from Cavan fans in the first half and Down supporters in the second, sent off Dara McVeety, Conor Moynagh and Anthony Doherty.

After the dust had settled, Cavan boss McGleenan said: “That was an Ulster Championship match, Down played serious football and we probably stole it.

“We didn’t play anywhere near what we’re capable of and we’re just happy to still be in the hat.”

He added: “We couldn’t break them down at all. Their mistake was beneficial for us and got us back into the game. We missed some serious scoring chances that left the game open at the end and James Farrelly saved our lives – he made an absolutely amazing save and we needed something like that.”

Despite the loss, there was loud applause from the Down changing room after the game. Eamonn Burns’ men had a list of ready made excuses to throw the towel in, but they refused to do so.

“I’m immensely proud of the performance and I don’t know how we came out on the wrong side of that result,” said a crestfallen Burns.

“I thought we put in a performance that should have won us the game.

“I didn’t get a good look at the black cards but I don’t think there was a lot in the red card for Ryan Johnston. It was telling at that point in the game, we were four points up and then they had the extra man. But we kept going right to the end.

After three years as Down manager, Burns hasn’t made up his mind on his future.

“We’ll let the dust settle and see where we are,” he said.

“I’ll speak to Sean Og (McAteer, the Down County Board secretary), I’ll speak to my family and my backroom team.”

The atmosphere around the ground before throw-in was akin to a National League fixture but the game was quickly up to Championship pace.

Seanie Johnston’s free had Cavan ahead inside the first minute before Mooney, the impressive Ronan Millar and O’Hagan combined to set up Conor Maginn for an equaliser 30 seconds later.

Down looked up for the fight but by the time McKiernan out-jumped Niall Donnelly and Peter Turley in midfield and strode forward to score, Cavan led 0-6 to 0-2.

Despite their aerial superiority, Cavan chose to drop off on Down’s kick-outs and the Mournemen were able to kick short and work the ball up the flanks.

They used possession well and McKernan’s superb pass found Harrison who broke wide, created a yard of space, and scored and a Millar free and a cracker from McKernan either side of Conor Bradley’s score meant Cavan lead was reduced to 0-7 to 0-5 after 20 minutes.

Frees from Anthony Doherty and Millar left it level but Connaire Harrison (for a trip) was followed off by McKernan who had a prolonged row with linesman. Both were shown black cards.

Down steadied the ship however and, with their defence looking increasingly solid, Turley split the posts after an assist from Niall Madine who had replaced Harrison. Cavan midfielder Sean McCormack equalized but Madine and then Sean Dornan – stepping up in the absence of Harrison – both landed points and Down, who had trailed by four, went in leading by two, 0-10 to 0-8, at the break.

It seemed clear that the team who wanted it most would win the game and Down continued to look the better side despite losing Mooney, who took a heavy hit at the end of the first half and was subbed early in the second.

Niall Murray pulled a point back, but Johnston left Enda Flanagan on his backside to set up David McKibbin and his score maintained the two-point gap.

“Come on Cavan, wake up!” roared a Breffni fan from the stand.

Down weren’t listening and Millar drove straight through the middle of the Cavan defence to claim a ball he had no right to win surrounded by defenders.

He kicked the free himself and then Dornan lashed over his second point to leave Down four ahead and on the brink of victory.

But the pendulum swung dramatically towards Cavan. First Johnston was red-carded for an altercation with Niall Murray and then Harrison dropped McKiernan’s attempted point into his net and suddenly there was only a point in it.

Down wisely kept the ball and earned a free when Millar was brought down. Doherty took it and roared a curse at the pitch as he saw it drift wide and then Murray and Ciaran Brady points edged Cavan ahead.

Millar, still full of running, leveled but Oisin Kiernan and Padraig Faulkner opened up a two-point gap as the game went into five minutes of extra-time.

Down battled on. Johnny Flynn got fingertips to a Cavan pass and Madine forced a 45 that Doherty slotted over.

The seconds ticked away and Down gathered themselves for a last hurrah. O’Hagan charged down the left flank and broke through on goal.

He could have fisted a point to force extra-time and Down would have been restored to 15 men, but he went for broke and smashed in a shot.

Farrelly saved bravely and, crucially, the ball stayed in play. Cavan broke upfield and McKiernan stroked over to seal the win.

Down are gone and Cavan remain and they know they’ll need to produce better than this to last much longer this summer.

Cavan: J Farrelly; K Brady, P Faulkner (0-1), E Flanagan; C Brady (0-2), C Moynagh, M Reilly; S McCormack (0-1), B Magee; O Kiernan (0-1), G McKiernan (1-2), N Murray (0-2); C Bradley (0-1), D McVeety (0-1), S Johnston (0-3 frees)

Substitutes: F Reilly for K Brady (ht), C Mackey for Magee, C O’Reilly for Johnston (42), A Cole for McCormack (53), N Clerkin for Bradley (60), J McLoughlin for Flanagan (72)

Yellow cards: K Brady (21), S McCormack (45)

Red cards: Moynagh and Johnston (after game ended)

Down: S Harrison; R McAleenan, B McArdle, A Doherty (0-3, 0-2 frees, 0-1 45); D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley (0-1), N Donnelly; R Millar (0-4, 0-3 frees), K McKernan (0-1), C Maginn (0-1); S Dornan (0-2), C Harrison (0-1), R Johnston

Substitutes: J Flynn for Mooney (38), C Poland for Donnelly (52), C Francis for Turley (67)

Black cards: C Harrison replaced by N Madine (0-1) (28), McKernan replaced by D McKibbin (0-1) (29)

Red cards: R Johnston (49), Doherty (after game ended)

Referee: C Reilly (Meath)

Attendance: 3,278


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