Even a good drop of Guinness not enough to send Down up on Paddy’s Day

Down's Daniel Guinness gets away from Westmeath's David Lynch during Sunday's Allianz Football League Division Two match in Cusack Park, Mullingar
Picture: Louis McNally
Down's Daniel Guinness gets away from Westmeath's David Lynch during Sunday's Allianz Football League Division Two match in Cusack Park, Mullingar Picture: Louis McNally
Allianz Football League Division Three: Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10

WHEN Daniel Guinness found the top corner to push Down towards where they’d dreamed they’d be on St Patrick’s Day, the headlines looked so easy.

The Carryduff man’s brilliant goal pushed the Mournemen four points clear early in a second half that they’d play against a fierce wind.

But they couldn’t hold on. The victory that would have earned them a spot in Division Two eluded them, but nor did they throw it away completely.

A draw changes very little.

What will be five years to the day after they blew an identical position by losing at home to Louth, Down need a draw or more against Clare next Sunday in Páirc Esler.

The initial instinct is to say that Down were really poor in Mullingar, but that’s probably a tad unfair.

In terms of their use of the ball in the first half, their attacking play, their composure, their decision-making, they were fairly brutal.

The team that came into the weekend as the top scorers across the four divisions were met by their first real test and they struggled with it.

But they still dominated possession, still shut down Westmeath’s key threats, still kept the hosts to three points themselves and made sure they were at least leading at the break.

Ceilum Doherty’s defensive performance against Ryan O’Toole was once more terrific and the Kilcoo man was one of few to bring a cool head to their attacking play.

When they needed a big moment late on, Ryan McEvoy delivered it off his weaker left foot.

If anything, his score that rescued the draw at least typified the change after the break, when Conor Laverty’s side were infinitely better, if still a good way short of perfect.

McEvoy took responsibility. Not too many would want their full-back swinging his weaker leg from 30 yards against a breeze but that’s what the situation demanded.

The biggest problem they had in the first half was that too many men retreated into their shells. When the first 15 minutes go to plan – they failed to score at all in that period with the aid of the wind – it suddenly became a shovelling match. Not enough of them really wanted the ball and those that did tended do the wrong thing with it.

Down's Ceilum Doherty keeps possession while under pressure from Luke Loughlin of Westmeath
Picture: Louis McNally
Down's Ceilum Doherty keeps possession while under pressure from Luke Loughlin of Westmeath Picture: Louis McNally

Level at 0-3 apiece at the end of first-half stoppage time, Ryan Johnston headed into traffic. He was stripped of the ball but it was gifted back to Daniel Guinness, who fed Pat Havern to carefully slot just inside the near post and give Down an advantage.

Their attacking play had barely merited a lead but it wasn’t as if Westmeath were desperately unlucky to be behind either.

And it hadn’t been a bad watch, it wasn’t a defensive game at all. There was plenty of space there on both ends. It just never clicked on either end really until after the interval.

“You don’t want to know my thoughts or what I said at half-time…” deadpanned Conor Laverty afterwards.

“I just felt we were very lacklustre. We didn’t have that edge that we showed over the last number of weeks.

“But I thought we started the second half very well. We were a wee bit more clinical. Then once we got in front, we seemed to sit off again and that’s not what we’re trying to do.

“The draw probably was a fair result. Both teams probably put themselves in a position to win but neither did.”

The second half was a marked improvement. Entertainment values were high, particularly in a bonkers last five minutes where Westmeath kept turning Down over only to give them the ball back again, creating a helter-skelter finish that just didn’t produce a winning score.

Defeat would have been harsh on Westmeath too, for their second half was better as well. Robbie Forde was an early sub when Danny McCartan got injured inside five minutes, and went on to kick four points. Luke Loughlin and Kieran Martin each hit a big score from play that roused a home support crying out for their side to go and win it.

When Luke Loughlin found space as the black shirts got drawn to James Dolan instead of minding the shooter, he looked to have kicked the Lakemen to that win.

Down manager Conor Laverty
Down manager Conor Laverty

“Yeah, I think it was a battling performance,” said Dessie Dolan.

“Down are a fine team, they’re the top scorers in the country. We knew it was going to be difficult and it was difficult. It was played at a high intensity at the same time.

“There was plenty of mistakes, it’s still early in the season, but I think there was a lot of honest endeavour there. I think a draw maybe was a fair result, we could have pushed on and got the winner but they were attacking as well.

“At times I thought it was gone away from us so a draw maybe is a fair result.”

Amid all that they’ll be able to tear apart in the video review this week, Down will find nuggets of gold too.

McEvoy’s equaliser was just that.

Nothing really changes. Avoid defeat next week and Down go up.

Easier said than done.

Westmeath: J Daly; K Maguire, C Drumm, J Dolan (0-1); S McCartan, A McCormack, N Harte; R Connellan (0-1), J Lynam (0-1); D Lynch, R O’Toole (0-1), D McCartan; C Dillon, K Martin (0-1), L Loughlin (0-3, 0-2 frees)
Subs: R Forde (0-4, 0-2 frees) for D McCartan (4), M Whittaker (0-1) for Lynam (HT), E Mulvihill for C Dillon (49), S Smith for Martin (63), S Allen for Harte (69)
Down: J O’Hare; P Laverty, R McEvoy (0-1), C Doherty (0-1); M Rooney, P Fegan, N McParland; O Murdock (0-1), C Mooney; D Magill (0-1), L Kerr, D Guinness (1-0), R Johnston (0-1); J Guinness (0-1), P Havern (0-4, 0-3 frees)
Subs: J Flynn for McParland (HT), A Gilmore for Mooney (42), S Annett for J Guinness (46), C Francis for D Magill (58)
Referee: J Molloy (Galway)