Down destroy Laois with eight-goal blast to reach Tailteann Cup Final against Meath

Down's Liam Kerr, who scored a hat-trick of goals in the Tailteann Cup semi-final destruction of Laois. Pic Philip Walsh
Down's Liam Kerr, who scored a hat-trick of goals in the Tailteann Cup semi-final destruction of Laois. Pic Philip Walsh Down's Liam Kerr, who scored a hat-trick of goals in the Tailteann Cup semi-final destruction of Laois. Pic Philip Walsh

Tailteann Cup semi-final: Down 8-16 Laois 2-12

A HURLING score-line – maybe Junior B or U14 level. But if Down play half as well as this in the final against Meath they'll be back competing in senior football's top trophy next year.

There were two big surprises as this match unfolded: first, that Laois reached double figures; then that the Mournemen didn't do so in terms of goals.

Eight goals is extraordinary, but Down should have had more.

Liam Kerr bagged three, his first inside the first minute.

Indeed Down scored more in the opening minute than Laois managed from play in the entire first half.

Laois had more wides than scores before the break – five to four – while Down wasted nothing.

Their hunger for goals was remarkable, with Danny Magill (twice), Pat Havern, Odhran Murdock, and Rory Mason all beating the hapless and largely helpless Killian Roche in the Laois nets.

The Mournemen were fast and furious, from their first attack onwards.

Murdock caught a long kick-pass, laid the ball off to the onrushing Kerr, and the Burren man left-footed it low to the net.

Havern was operating deeper and he ran forward to kick a point before exchanging hand-passes then slotting a low shot inside the near post.

2-1 to no score, with less than eight minutes played.

Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed, and Laois finally opened their account, from a Mark Barry free, but Down kept coming, like a force of nature.

Billy Sheehan's side were surely praying that the clouds opened, that Croke Park flooded, but instead the deluge of Down scores continued as the Mournemen flooded forward.

A Shealan Johnston shot came off the right upright and this time Kerr was the furthest Down man forward, collecting the rebound before drifting to the right and then cutely guiding his shot back across goal and past Roche.

Still less than a quarter of an hour gone.

Four minutes later Magill powered forward on the right flank and blasted the ball to the Laois rigging.

A quarter of the time up.

Game over. 4-2 to 0-1.

Ceilum Doherty, often playing right up in the opposition 'D', exemplified the Down approach. Either side of scoring a point and a mark he flung himself into a diving block to stop a shot from Laois midfielder Damon Larkin.

The movement of the Down players, both up and down the pitch and in terms of positional switches, completely bewildered and befuddled their opponents.

At one stage corner-backs Patrick McCarthy and Anthony Doherty were two of the three most advanced Mournemen, both well up their respective flanks.

Yet it was the cleverness, calmness, and combination play of the Down attackers that did most of the damage.

Kerr, Mason, Murdock, and Magill provided the pace and power, the Kilcoo quartet of Ceilum Doherty, Eugene Branagan, and the Johnstons, Ryan and Shealan, added the trickery and sleight of hand.

All worked together as a well-oiled, unstoppable scoring machine.

Havern and Murdock's goals both came after hand-pass 1-2s, Mason's and Magill's second from the ball being palmed down to them, by Kerr and Murdock respectively.

There's a requisite ruthlessness too, even if Murdock had another goal opportunity blocked, Eugene Branagan flashed a shot wide, and Kerr failed to net his fourth when Roche saved from close range.

Boss Conor Laverty kept blood sub Patrick Branagan on the pitch to the end, allowing him to make six personnel changes, and the Clonduff man came up with two points.

The Mourne County manager's obvious annoyance when Laois netted through substitute Kevin Swayne just after the hour mark received the right response from his team too, with Shane Annett's long kick-pass finding Kerr to set up Magill to make it 8-14 to 1-10.

Barry put a penalty kick past Niall Kane after a foul on Paul Kingston but Down fittingly got the last two scores to take their total to 40.

Sure, Laois were awful for large parts, and failed to tighten up at the back, but Down were quite brilliant, breathtakingly exciting to watch.

Meath will prove a much tougher challenge; so would a damp tissue.

Yet this Down display showed that they are heading in the right direction and can be confident of repeating their 1991 All-Ireland triumph over Meath in the middle of next month.

Down: N Kane (0-1 free); P McCarthy, P Laverty (capt.), A Doherty; M Rooney, C Doherty (0-2, 0-1 mark), S Johnston; D Guinness, R Mason (1-1, 0-1 free); L Kerr (3-2), P Havern (1-3), D Magill (2-0); E Branagan (0-3), O Murdock (1-1), R Johnston (0-1).

Substitutes: R McEvoy for Laverty (h-t); S Annett for Guinness (43); D McAleenan for R Johnston (49); R Carr for Havern (47); R O'Hare for S Johnston (54).

Blood sub: P Branagan (0-2) for C Doherty (43-end).

Laois: K Roche (0-1 '45'); S Greene, T Collins, R Pigott; P Kirwan, M Timmons, P O'Sullivan; K Lillis, D Larkin; C Murphy, P Kingston (0-1), J Finn; M Barry (1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-4 frees, 0-1 mark), E O'Carroll (0-1), E Lowry (0-2, 0-1 free).

Substitutes: S O'Flynn for Kirwan (h-t); A Mohan for Collins (h-t); K Swayne (1-0) for Finn (h-t); D Kavanagh (0-1) for Timmons (inj., 39); N Corbet for Murphy (63).

Referee: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).

Attendance: 17,945.