Down dig in to escape with draw from trip to Tipp in League opener
Allianz National Football League Division Three: Tipperary 0-10 Down 0-10
IT may be a long way to Tipperary, but it’s an even longer way to Clonmel. Just under the three hour mark from Newry, the journey home for players and supporters would have felt like twice that had Down not escaped with a point from an awkward, uneasy afternoon.
Down in the south of the county, a puck of a sliothar from the Waterford border, this is football country. Apparently.
Still, much of the talk among the faithful meandering into the ground was of Limerick’s victory over Liam Sheedy’s All-Ireland winners the night before. With its lumpy surface and bare patches, as well as a bit of 4G thrown into the mix around the goal areas, the state of the pitch summed up the general feeling towards the big ball game in this hurling-obsessed county – a bit unloved.
Clonmel hadn’t hosted a League game since 2016, the same year Tipp went on an unlikely odyssey to the All-Ireland semi-final. Four years on, they might not even be in the shake up for Sam if they don’t get out of Division Three.
Those are the stakes being played for this time around and, leading by two with less than 10 minutes to go, it looked as though David Power was about to get off to a flying start in his competitive outing.
Down had been lacking in inspiration for much of the second half, to the point where it was almost impossible to see how they would take anything back up the road other than a busload of frustration.
Cory Quinn was brought into the starting 15 to offer the kind of unpredictable energy Down have lacked and, after a quiet second half, he started the ball rolling on the comeback when his ambitious low drive was pushed around the post by Evan Comerford – even though it looked to be heading wide anyway.
Goalkeeper Rory Burns came up to take the 45. He had to score, and he did. One point game.
So many of Down’s second half attacks had come to nothing when long, aimless balls towards the square proved easy meat for a Tipperary defence crammed with blue and gold bodies.
Reduced to 14 men from the 40th minute after a second black card was shown to Jack Kennedy, David Power’s men were ceding no space.
It would take a moment of quality to unlock the door, and it came when substitute Liam Kerr delivered a perfect diagonal pass towards Owen McCabe in the square. The Carryduff man showcased his supreme fielding abilities all day and didn’t disappoint when it mattered most, rising above Emmet Moloney.
Unfortunately for McCabe, he stumbled when hurdling the prone Tipp defender on his way to goal, allowing Comerford to close the gap. McCabe slotted just over the bar to level it up but immediately held his head in his hands. It was a massive moment.
That was the third goal chance of the day that had gone abegging for Down, with Quinn and McCabe seeing chances pass inside a lively opening 15 minutes.
The movement of Quinn, in particular, was causing Tipp bother and after eight minutes he danced into the square before losing control of the ball while skipping around Comerford, the Premier eventually clearing the danger.
McCabe’s opportunity came when he collected a Barry O’Hagan offload 12 yards out, only for Moloney to block his effort.
At this stage, though, Down looked comfortable. Tipp had Kennedy sin-binned 11 minutes in and the Mournemen opened up a three point lead in that time, a Donal O’Hare free and brilliant points from Quinn and Barry O’Hagan cementing their grip on the game.
But when Kennedy came back on, Power’s men began to dominate. They didn’t lose any of their kick-outs the whole first half and picked off three of Down’s as they came on strong towards the end of the second half, seeing two efforts come off the upright into the bargain.
The direct running of Steven O’Brien, the vision of Bill Maher and the ruthlessness of Conor Sweeney saw Tipp chip away at the Down lead, and when Sweeney swivelled and fired over a minute into added time, they were ahead for the first time, 0-6 to 0-5.
Paddy Tally brought McCabe out to midfield after the break, replacing Sean Dornan with forward Pat Havern, but it made little difference in the face of a resolute Tipp defence.
Tally was boosted by the return to action of Niall Donnelly for the first time since the opening League game of last year, but it was the introduction of Kerr that offered Down a bit of zip.
He had a hand in the score than made it 0-8 apiece, skipping across the ground after good defensive work from debutant Shane Annett before playing in Havern who made no mistake.
Tipp spurned a goal chance of their own a minute later, Alan Campbell seeing his shot well smothered by Burns, but a Comerford 45 and an advanced mark from Sweeney helped them open up a two point gap heading towards the last.
Seemingly out on their feet, Down somehow rallied to grab a precious point thanks to Burns and McCabe, and had opportunities to snatch the win, only for efforts from Quinn and substitute Ross McGarry to drift harmlessly wide of the posts.
Whether it was a point gained or an opportunity missed, only time will tell as the race to escape Tier Two hots up – starting against Derry in Newry on Saturday night.
Tipperary: E Comerford (0-2, frees); A Campbell, J Meagher, C O’Shaughnessy; E Moloney, R Kiely, D Brennan; S O’Brien (0-1), C Kennedy; B Maher, J Kennedy (0-1), K Fahey; L Boland (0-1, mark), C Sweeney (0-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 mark), B Fox. Subs: K O’Halloran for K Fahey (HT), T Nolan for C Kennedy (65), C Kennedy for B Maher (67)
Black cards: J Kennedy (16, 40)
Yellow card: D Brennan (66)
Red card: J Kennedy (40)
Down: R Burns (0-2, 45s): R McAleenan, P Fegan, K McKernan; G Collins, D O’Hagan, S Annett; C Poland, S Dornan; B O’Hagan (0-1), C Maginn, D Guinness; O McCabe (0-2), D O’Hare (0-3, frees), C Quinn (0-1). Subs: P Havern (0-1) for Dornan (HT), L Kerr for Maginn (42), N Donnelly for Poland (47), R McGarry for Guinness (53), D Hughes for B O’Hagan (57)
Yellow cards: B O’Hagan (38), N Donnelly (51), D Guinness (53)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)