‘They’ve been the best side all year...’ No complaints from Banner as Down seal promotion to Division Two

Two-goal second half salvo seals top spot for Conor Laverty undefeated Mournemen

Down's Daniel Guinness is bundled over and Down are awarded a penalty. Pic Philip Walsh
Down's Daniel Guinness is bundled over and Down are awarded a penalty. Pic Philip Walsh

Allianz National Football League Division Three, round seven

Down 3-15 Clare 1-10

DOWN added a ruthless scoring touch to their physical supremacy to seal promotion with an emphatic win in front of the biggest crowd of the season in Newry.

There was pressure on them going into this game but two goals in as many minutes meant the Mournemen shrugged off the Banner county’s stubborn challenge midway through the second half.

Ceilum Doherty’s major had given the home side an early five-point lead but there were just two in it early in the second half before the well-drilled, well-conditioned Mournemen began to move through the gears and an Odhran Murdock penalty and Danny Magill’s piledriver sealed a top-of-the-table finish for Conor Laverty’s unbeaten side.

Afterwards Clare manager Mark Fitzgerald was disappointed in his team’s performance, but said Down deserved their win and promotion.

“Not to take away from Down, they’re a really good side, but we didn’t play well,” he said.

“Whether that was because Down didn’t let us or not… We were flat in the first half and even when we got the goal it didn’t give us any momentum.

“But that’s taking nothing away from Down, they’re a really good side. They’ve been the best side in Division Three all year so they deserved it.”

Fitzgerald’s side had a chance to open the scoring when Ceilum Doherty was harshly penalised for a well-timed tackle on Dermot Coughlan (not the first questionable decision from referee David Coldrick) but Emmet McMahon sent the free wide.

Pat Havern did better at the other end after Danny Magill had been (genuinely) fouled and Down pushed goalkeeper John O’Hare into midfield for the kickout.

Stephen Ryan’s restart sailed over his head into Dermot Coughlan’s arms and, with O’Hare sprinting back towards his goal, he was taken down but again McMahon couldn’t convert the free.

Down's Ceilum Doherty and Clare's Shane Griffin in action at Páirc Esler Newry. Pic Philip Walsh
Down's Ceilum Doherty and Clare's Shane Griffin in action at Páirc Esler Newry. Pic Philip Walsh

Down made the most of the let-off. When the Mournemen got a short kickout away, Clare struggled to match their running game and Ryan Johnston spotted Ceilum Doherty’s break with an inch-perfect handpass. Doherty hammered in a shot that was blocked by Ryan but he grabbed the rebound and tried again. His second go was also partially blocked but the umpire ruled it had gone over the line.

O’Hare grabbed the next Clare kickout and Johnston curled the ball over from the left wing and Down led 1-2 to no-score after eight minutes.

Clare hit back in style and, from a Down point of view, their goal came too easily. Coughlan picked out Aaron Griffin who shrugged off his marker, went round O’Hare and rolled the ball into the net. A Ciaran Downes free left just a point in it but the hard-working Liam Kerr replied for Down who then introduced Northern Ireland U21 international and former Ulster U20 Championship winner John McGovern for his senior debut.

McGovern, who had played 90 minutes for Newry City on Saturday, was clattered by marker Micheal Garry when he showed for his first ball and, after Micheal Rooney and McMahon had swapped points, the Ballyholland clubman was black-carded for a foul (a push in the back) on Coughlan.

The Clare forward ran onto into a scoring position but referee Coldrick stopped play and sent the debutant to the sin bin.

His officiating got the crowd going and a nervy encounter came to life as Down responded well. Danny Magill raced through the middle to score.

Havern and Downes and then Doherty and Ryan, with a booming long-range punt (were you watching NFL scouts?) swapped points and it was 1-7 to 1-4 to Down at the interval.

Downes’ point left just two in it and Daniel Walsh could even have sent the visitors ahead but he blasted wide after O’Hare had partially cleared McMahon’s up-and-under.

Kerr hit back for Down with a driving run into traffic and a good finish under pressure. McGovern was called ashore (he’ll have much better days in red and black) and, after Doherty had blocked Griffin’s shot, Down almost bagged their second goal.

Havern and Murdock played in Kerr but his first-time shot was blocked by Micheal Garry on the line.

Then confusion reigned. Daniel Guinness was pulled back and Coldrick blew his whistle. The Clare defence stopped but Guinness played on and his shot found its way into the net.

The goal was given, but then disallowed and a free awarded.

Havern scored to stretch Down’s lead to four (1-9 to 1-5) and the Saval clubman added another – his best of the game – from the wing before the goal Down had threatened eventually came.

A combination of Magill and Laverty sent Guinness through and, as he tried to shoot, Alan Sweeney bundled him over. Coldrick signalled ‘penalty’ and Murdock stroked it cooly past Ryan.

And then there were three. Murdock flicked ball to Magill who side-stepped Ryan and put the game to an early bed with another excellent finish.

Mark McInerney replied with a free but scores from Magill, Guinness, Kerr, Doherty and Havern ensured there was no hint of a comeback and Down got clinched the promotion they deserved.

Down: J O’Hare; P Fegan, R McEvoy, C Doherty (1-2); M Rooney (0-1), P Laverty, D Guinness (0-1); J Flynn, O Murdock (1-0 pen); D Magill (1-2), L Kerr (0-3), R Johnston (0-1); F McElroy, P Havern (0-5, 0-3 frees), J Guinness

Subs: J McGovern for J Guinness (19), O Savage for McGovern (40), S Annett for McElroy (58), C Francis for Rooney (65), R Magill for Kerr (67)

Yellow cards: J Guinness (12), McElroy (55)

Black card: McGovern (26-36)

Clare: S Ryan (0-1); M Doherty, R Lanigan, M Garry; I Ugweru, A Sweeney, D Walsh; B McNamara, G Murray; E McMahon (0-1 free), C Downes (0-4, 0-3 frees), D Coughlan (0-1); C Rouine, A Griffin (1-0), C Murray

Yellow card: Downes (55), Doherty (70)

Subs: J McGann for C Murray (HT), M McInerney (0-2, 0-1 free) for Murray (53), T Kelly for Sweeney (58), D O’Donnell (0-1) for McMahon (63), S Griffin for A Griffin (65)

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)