GAA Football

Late Jerome Johnston mark gives 14-man Down win over Westmeath

Pat Havern collides with Westmeath goalkeeper Eoin Carberry in the incident which led to the Down forward getting a straight red card at Pairc Esler on Saturday evening Picture by Philip Walsh

Allianz Football League Division Three: Down 0-10 Westmeath 0-9

SMASH and grab is not the habit Down would be looking about, but it’ll do for now.

Jerome Johnston, who has previous for such ventures from saving their skin in the final game down in Cork two years ago, was the man that raised the roof on the Páirc Esler stand.

It was a superb winner, with one flaw. He did superbly to make the mark in the first place, grasping the ball as he tumbled over and hanging on tight.

40 yards out, closer to 50 when you took the sideline angle into account, he steadied and sent it skyward. Up and up and up until it returned just inside the far post. It was some kick.

There is a but. He took 18 seconds to kick it when the rule says you’re only allowed 15. The timing is something that’s annoying the gums during the teething process for the new rules, but Westmeath manager Jack Cooney simply smiled wryly and said: “Ah well we’re splitting hairs there. If it was up the other end of the pitch I wouldn’t be giving out about it. It was a fabulous kick, and it was a great mark.”

Down deserved to win, largely on the basis that Westmeath didn’t. The visitors played an hour’s football (stoppage time included) with a spare man yet made absolutely no use of it.

Paddy Tally could do nothing only admit that he was surprised by their failure to adapt out of their stringent defensive shape once they had a numerical advantage. He certainly wasn’t complaining.

The irony was that the signs up until that point weren’t overly promising for the home team. Top of the list was their eternal struggle to win their own ball.

Year on year on year now that’s been right up there as their primary issue. Up until the red card, they had won just one kick-out. At half-time, that figure was still the same.

Not that there were a heap of them in a fairly turgid first 35 minutes. It was 0-1 apiece after 22 minutes, with Down’s laboriousness in their build-up countered by the good defensive job they were doing on Westmeath’s key threats.

Kieran Martin hardly saw leather all night, while Ger Egan’s nine-point tally last weekend was chopped in three, and none of them from play as Darren O’Hagan did what Darren O’Hagan does.

Egan’s one real moment of freedom saw him clip a delicious ball that Tommy McDaniel clutched beautifully overhead. He was chopped down as he cut inside and Westmeath had a 15th minute penalty.

But after Down’s sideline runner Stephen Beattie got across for a word with his goalkeeper, the Castlewellan man made a superb stop from Egan’s penalty. Low, with a strong hand, he turned it away.

The game threatened to turn one way when it really should have been going the other. Paul Devlin’s turnover led to a great chance for Down but Donal O’Hare’s pass was rushed and inaccurate. Pat Havern couldn’t get there before Eoin Carberry, and the Westmeath man won the ball and the collision.

As Havern got back to his feet he appeared to strike out on a Westmeath defender and after consulting with his umpires, David Gough pointed him to the dugout.

James Dolan landed what was the game’s best score until the depths of injury-time off the outside of his boot from almost 50 yards to put Westmeath 0-3 to 0-2 ahead soon after, but their lead was no deeper by the break, just 0-5 to 0-4.

The game didn’t so much ebb and flow as it stuttered and stopped. And that was ok with Down by then. They were the side hoping it wouldn’t get stretched.

Still, things obviously weren’t right and that was emphasised by a triple half-time change by Down, bringing in Connaire Harrison, Conor McGrady and Conor Maginn.

Maginn was excellent. Just a cut above in his thinking, his movement, his timing, his precision.

They’d pulled level twice by the 45th minute but when Sam Duncan and Luke Loughlin kicked fine scores in quick succession, it seemed like the Lakemen were finally making a break for the door.

But their tactics were scarcely believable at times, not least letting Down work short kickouts and free-kicks in their own defence in the second half while playing with an extra man.

Conor Poland had a big three minutes as he won a free that O’Hare pointed before kicking the equaliser himself after O’Hare, Caolan Mooney and Ryan Johnston had combined to open the gap.

Connaire Harrison was having a frustrating evening and got away with one when he got turned over and Westmeath broke into a huge space, only for Loughlin to inexplicably kick when he had runners either side. Bad enough that he shot, but then he put it wide too.

It was one of a few let-offs. David Gough had blown a mark for Luke Loughlin inside when he was rightly collared because the kick had been taken from inside the 45’. The Meath whistler held his hands up and hopped the ball.

Ger Egan nudged them back in front with a sweet free but when it was needed, Caolan Mooney stepped up. His powerful run lit the stage for O’Hare to drop over the equaliser and send them into stoppage time level.

Down, for whom Kevin McKernan had a major influence, sensed the chance and took it.

Paddy Tally had made a brave call by taking off Harrison, who’d only come on at the break, but that’s what he’s there for. It was justified by Johnston’s winner, which was good enough to forgive that the minor timing indiscretion ever happened.

And in that one glorious act, the Kilcoo man nudged Down in among the pigeons and took the scissors to Westmeath’s margin for error.

“We had to win tonight. The Sligo win would have meant nothing had we not pushed on and got a home win. The boys showed not only great resolve to stick at it, but some good football,” said Tally afterwards.

It’ll do for now.

Down: R Burns; R Wells, G Collins; D O’Hagan, S Fegan, K McKernan (0-1), C Flanagan, J Flynn; C Mooney, C Poland (0-1); C Francis, P Devlin, R Johnston (0-3); P Havern, D O’Hare (0-4, 0-3f)

Subs: D Guinness for Francis (34), C Harrison for Devlin (HT), C Maginn for Fegan (HT), C McGrady for Flynn (HT), J Johnston (0-1 mark) for Harrison (64)

Yellow cards: R Johnston (28), C Mooney (57), D O’Hare (61)

Red card: P Havern (24)

Westmeath: E Carberry; R Wallace, B Sayeh (0-1); N Mulligan, K Daly, F Boyle, J Gonoud, J Dolan (0-1); D Corroon, S Duncan (0-2); R O’Toole (0-1), G Egan (0-3f), K Martin; T McDaniel, L Loughlin (0-1)

Subs: C McCormack for McDaniel (37), F Coyne for Duncan (54), D Lynch for Boyle (64), J Mulligan for Corroon (72)

Yellow cards: R Wallace (35), S Duncan (42), K Martin (69)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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