Down 3-9 Leitrim 0-13
A rematch from 2008 again went the way of Down footballers as they returned to the senior football final with an excellent win over Leitrim on Sunday.
Leitrim had beaten their opponents on two occasions this season, but third time was a charm for Down as they used three goals to put the game beyond doubt.
The one black mark on the contest was an unsavory closing when a brawl developed. Suspensions should be handed out, but don’t hold your breath as the rule remains in the New York code book that a player may appeal any decision before the beginning of next season.
It allows for some to have free reign in their last outing which does not make any sense. It certainly needs to be addressed.
Leitrim opened brightly with Jamie Doolin having the first clear chance. His shot came back off the woodwork, however, with a goal at his mercy.
The next attack netted the opening score as Pat Madden set up Scott Conroy. Madden had the third point as he won the throw up after the referee penalized hesitancy by the Down men with taking a free for an early Leitrim lead.
Once Down settled down Robbie Moran pointed from play after Sean Munnelly and Michael Sloan did the approach work. Michael O’Rourke had a goal chance for Down when his touch from a Michael Sloan cross went agonizingly wide.
The sides were level shortly after as Sloan found Moran after Munnelly was fouled. Pakie Downey added to the scoring as he found Munnelly with an intelligent pass, but Leitrim pulled it back by grabbing two points from frees.
The first came when Doolin was fouled after a terrific pass by Dan Doona; the second when Donal Hartnett was fouled. He chipped both over.
The Leitrim revival was short lived when a brace of goals by Down blew the game open. The first came when Gareth O’Neill finished a five man attacking move, the second when Sloan found Downey with a beautiful pass and the big man found the net.
Leitrim did respond with two points, but the foundation for the Down win was firmly in place. The sides swapped scores before the half arrived, but Down were holding a 2-4 to 0-7 lead at this stage.
Down continued to apply the pressure after the break as O’Neill was fouled. Moran extended the lead with the free.
Down’s superior fitness and cohesion were becoming more apparent as Gary Cornyn waltzed his way from deep in defense to set up Mark Dobbins for a fine long range point despite being flattened in the process. Dobbins was also instrumental in the next score as he was fouled as he cut through the Leitrim rearguard.
With five minutes gone, Down were now two clear goals ahead when number three arrived. The reasons behind this major strike had more to do with Leitrim’s stupidity than Down’s ingenuity.
Johnny Goldrick had broken up a promising- looking Down attack and was awarded a free. Rather than take the free, he retaliated and the free was taken from him at the expense of a throw up.
From the resultant throw up, Sloan sent the ball direct to Downey who knocked it down to Dobbins, who shot low to the corner of the net.
Leitrim were now nine points down with just 10 minutes gone. Indeed it looked an insurmountable lead, especially since Brendan McGourty had negated the major threat from Conroy and the other attackers were not making any headway against a hard tackling Down defense.
Substitute Ray O’Connor did add a bit of bite when he came on as he set up Hartnett for Leitrim’s first score of the period after 15 minutes had elapsed. Leitrim did manage to string together a good move involving Dermot Keane, John O’Neill and Alan Foley, but Lonan McGuire’s finish was badly wide.
Leitrim improved their performance for the last 10 minutes, but the game was over as a contest at that point. O’Connor sent over from long range while Conroy put over a point, finishing a good run by Dermot Keane.
However, at the other end Cornyn not only showed his defensive skills but also his scoring skills as he combined well with Dobbins and Sloan to hit the target.
Leitrim did finish with a flurry of points as Conroy, O’Connor and Hartnett were on target, but it was too little too late as the Mourne men were already mapping their strategy for the final.
Down will be delighted at getting a second crack at the senior championship cherry in their second year at this level. Brendan McGourty was very impressive at full back. Gary Cornyn, Brian Murray and Gareth O’Neill also came to the fore.
Pakie Downey had his best performance in a long while, Mark Dobbins, Michael Sloan and Robbie Moran also had telling contributions.
Leitrim will agree that Dermot Keane, John Goldrick, Ray O’Connor off the bench and John O’Neill battled hard, but too many of the big names were snuffed out and not allowed to play by the brilliant Down men.