Hurling & Camogie

Down come roaring back with brilliant second-half display to bury memories of Kerry defeat

Danny Toner roars with delight after scoring Down's second goal in Saturday's victory over Kerry
Danny Toner roars with delight after scoring Down's second goal in Saturday's victory over Kerry
Allianz Hurling League Division 2A, round two
Down 2-23 Kerry 1-19

KERRY left Down battered and bruised when they last visited Ballycran – but this time the Kingdom faced the longest of trips home after a stunning second-half surge sealed the Ardsmen’s first League victory of the season.

Trailing by seven at half-time, Down won by seven in the end, that nice little bit of scoreboard symmetry just about summing up a game that started at breakneck speed before Ronan Sheehan’s men managed to wrestle away control.

Second-half goals from Daithi Sands and Danny Toner – making a first competitive start in red and black since 2020 – helped turn the screw, so too the class of Pearse Og McCrickard.

But this performance was founded on the most solid of foundations as a dogged rearguard action kept a previously rampant Kerry to just four after the break.

The sun may have crept out from behind the clouds before throw-in but, on a sticky pitch sodden after days of rain, crisp, clean hurling was never going to win the day at McKenna Park.

Instead, it would be the small details that decided who headed into the League break happy, and who was feeling the heat after consecutive losses.

Having been bullied en route to a 12-point defeat eight months earlier, Down played with a chip on their shoulder; the same thing would not be allowed to happen again.

Whereas Fionan Mackessy had scattered the Ardsmen like bowling pins at times during last June’s Joe McDonagh Cup win, the Kerry man-mountain was unable to exert anything like as much influence.

It was Ruairi McCrickard’s job to get in Mackessy’s road and stop him raising a gallop. Outside of a couple of monster frees from near his own goal just before the break, the St Brendan’s man was peripheral by his own high standards.

And yet, going in at half-time, the Kingdom still looked well placed to ransack Ballycran once more.

Even without injured talisman Shane Conway, they were shooting the lights from the off, Down doing well to cling onto Kerry’s coat-tails during an opening 25 minutes of breathless, brilliant, anything you can do I can do better type stuff.

A Michael Leane goal inside the opening minute gave Kerry the perfect start, the Ardsmen architects of their own demise at times, giving away cheap possession on a day when, aided by a decent breeze at their backs, Stephen Molumphy’s side started off in the mood to punish any error.

With Dan Goggins leading the line superbly, Mackessy starting to find something of a groove and the wind calming as half-time neared, a seven-point deficit felt fairly daunting – not that Sheehan was overly concerned.

“We were probably a wee bit frustrated at half-time,” he said.

“We had spoken about not giving them a good start because their heads would’ve been down after last week [when Kerry lost to Carlow], but after that we hurled well.

“We were doing a lot of really good things, they had three or four wonder-points where the wind just took it, so we knew we needed a good start to the second half – and that’s exactly what we got…”

Look no further for the understatement of the day.

Kerry’s attacking thrust was quelled to such an extent that they didn’t manage another score until 23 minutes into the second half, the relentless work of Prenter, Liam Savage, Caolan Taggart and Donal Hughes, allied to a rock-solid defence, providing a platform for the Ardsmen to kick on.

And they did so in some style, rattling off 2-8 in the time between to leave their opponents’ heads spinning. Daithi Sands’s goal put Down ahead for the first time, and was just the kind of rabbit-from-a-hat moment of magic we have come to expect from the Portaferry maestro as he dragged himself up off the ground after slipping, before side-stepping Eric Leen and lashing to the net.

Six minutes later, Toner made it a day to remember when referee James Clarke played a good advantage after Tom McGrattan was fouled, allowing impressive second-half sub Eoghan Sands to find the Ballygalget man in space.

Like so many times before, Toner made no mistake, sending his shot across Louis Dee as the Ardsmen grabbed the game by the scruff.

Kerry couldn’t get to grips with the directness of Down’s play in the second half, with Ruairi McCrickard putting in a huge shift after dropping back to centre-forward – the Ardsmen now more concerned with their own scoring potential rather than the dangers posed by Mackessy.

When Stephen Keith smartly saved Maurice O’Connor’s penalty six minutes from time, any lingering Kingdom hopes died as Down turned on the style to see this one out.

Kildare are the next to visit McKenna Park in a fortnight and, on this form, it is a trip they are unlikely to relish.

Down: S Keith; J McManus, M Conlan, D Mallon; B Trainor, C Taggart (0-1), L Savage; D Hughes (0-1), R McCrickard (0-1); D Sands (1-1), P Og McCrickard (0-9, 0-5 frees), T Prenter (0-3); D Toner (1-1), T McGrattan (0-3), C Egan (0-1). Subs: E Sands (0-1) for Egan (45), P Sheehan (0-1) for Toner (54), C Milligan for Hughes (70), N Milligan for D Sands (70+1)

Yellow cards: C Egan (34), L Savage (41), C Taggart (67)

Kerry: L Dee; E Lee, D Shanahan (0-1), N O’Mahony; T O’Connor (0-2), E Murphy, D Griffin; K O’Connor, F Mackessy (0-3, 0-2 frees); M Leane (1-0), G Dooley (0-2), B Barrett; N Mulcahy (0-2), M O’Connor (0-5, 0-4 frees), D Goggin (0-3). Subs: K Hayes (0-1) for Barrett (4), F McCarthy for Leen (51), T Doyle for Leane (60), D Reen for Mulcahy (69)

Yellow cards: N O’Mahony (37), D Goggin (41), G Dooley (44)

Referee: J Clarke (Cavan)