Crucial moments swing in Down's favour as victory over Offaly secures senior status

A goal from Aimee McAleenan proved crucial for Down as they defeated Offaly to guarantee their place in the All-Ireland Senior Championship for a third successive year
Séamas McAleenan

Glen Dimplex Senior Championship Group Two: Down 1-11 Offaly 0-13

THERE were three key moments in this Glen Dimplex Senior Championship clash at Liatroim Fontenoys and all three were crucial in Down securing senior status for a third season.

The first incident came after 19 minutes when Derry referee Eamon Cassidy red-carded Offaly centre forward Christine Cleary with her side 0-6 to 0-5 ahead. The Shinrone player had already scored a point.

The second incident came six minutes into the second half when some individual brilliance from Niamh Mallon set up her captain Aimee McAleenan for Down’s goal to put them four points clear.

Down only needed a draw from the game to sink Offaly into relegation bother and the match seemed to be heading that way as the visitors scored four unanswered points over the last 20 minutes to level the game at 1-10 to 0-13 with just added time remaining.

However, after two minutes of added time, Down won a free on the 45 metres line a couple of metres in from the sideline. Paula O’Hagan stood over it and drove it into the breeze and over the bar to secure the victory her team wanted.

It was a pressure score to end a pressure game.

The injury to Niamh Mallon when they were ahead in last week’s game in Limerick impacted on the result that put down into relegation trouble in the first instance. But Mallon played through the pain barrier to score three points and set up the goal, although she handed free-taking duties over to O’Hagan who responded brilliantly.

There was also a first appearance of the championship for the experienced Aoife Keown and Cáitríona Caldwell who were returning from injury and they contributed well to help Down finish on a high.

The early stages of the game saw the teams trade scores from O’Hagan’s opener in the second minute. Down led by 0-4 to 0-3 after eight minutes with four different scorers, but Offaly had edged ahead, 0-6 to 0-5, just before Cleary got her marching orders.

They added two points before the break through Máiréad Teehan and Sarah Harding, but Paula O’Hagan cancelled each out to leave it 0-8 to 0-7 at half time in Offaly’s favour.

Down got a great start to the second half with three unanswered scores in the first six minutes. O’Hagan opened with a free, Niamh Mallon pointed and then created the all-important goal for Aimee McAleenan, playing on her home pitch.

Harding and Mallon then traded points, before scores dried up for the home side after 40 minutes. Offaly hit three scores in a row between the 17th and 21st minutes, but their equaliser, a long free from Aisling Brennan, didn’t arrive until the start of injury time.

Down needed to hold their ground and run down the clock. They did better than that with O’Hagan giving them a narrow victory to cement their place at the top table for another season.

Down: C McGourty; C Caldwell, B Fitzpatrick, D Coleman; C McGilligan, D Magee, O Boyle; C Cowan 0-1, C Fitzpatrick; A Keown, P O’Hagan (0-6, 0-5 frees), N Mallon (0-3); L Clarke, A McAleenan (1-1), A Rogan.

Subs: D Savage for L Clarke, B Savage for C Fitzpatrick, L Clarke for A Rogan.

Offaly: E Clendennen; S Guinan, A Feeney, O Gorman; O Phelan, A Brennan (0-1 free), G Teehan; L Mannion, S Walsh; S Harding (0-2), C Cleary (0-1), R Egan (0-1); M Teehan (0-4, 0-2 frees), S Flannery (0-4 , 0-3 frees), C Leahy

Referee: EP Cassidy (Derry)

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