Unbelieveable adventure for Down

August 31, 2010

What drama, what an unbelievable adventure for Down senior footballers 2010 has been. Written off for every Championship match Down have produced raw courage, no little skill and huge belief to reach an All-Ireland Final. In this first ever meeting between Down and Kildare in the Senior Championship, the Mourne men rode their luck, but don’t you make your own luck?

After a shaky start the absence of team captain Ambrose Rogers, which many feared would be a mortal blow, had become a non event as his replacement Peter Fitzpatrick stepped up to the mark and the race is on now to get Ambrose on the pitch in the Final.

Kildare began with great gusto and went two nil in front. They were on top around midfield and had players running from deep causing the Down defence lots of problems as did the high ball into James Kavanagh. Down were struggling to get to grips with the pace of the game and looked decidedly rocky.

Ten minutes in Kevin McKernan became an unlikely Down first scorer when he took a Daniel Hughes pass and kicked a point to relieve the pressure and settle his side a bit. A John Doyle free made it three one as Kildare resumed their dominance.

On the quarter hour Down got a break. John Clarke and Martin Clarke combined for the latter to drop a high ball into the square where a lurking Benny Coulter got a fist to it and directed it into the net. Within a minute centre back Kevin McKernan added his second point and a foul on John Clarke left Mark Poland a free to convert to give Down a three point lead.

Just as suddenly the advantage swung back to Kildare with the next three points chalked up by Morgan O’Flaherty, and John Doyle (2).

It was that sort of game with each team having periods of dominance and Down were next to trouble the score board with another two points in a sixty second spell. Mark Poland pointed after a foul on Martin Clarke then from the kick out Daniel Hughes returned the ball over the bar.

In the twenty seventh minute John Doyle scored another free for his fourth score of the half but thereafter it was all Down to the break. Damian Rafferty robbed a great ball to intercept a burgeoning Kildare attack and Martin Clarke finished the move with a super score. Paul McComiskey then broke a tackle to fist a point, Daniel Hughes added another and just on the half time whistle Benny  Coulter swung over an outrageous score with the outside of the boot to put Down 1- 9 to 0-7 ahead.

A Martin Clarke free extended Down’s lead on the restart but they failed to push on and a wayward defensive clearance at the other end allowed Emmett Bolton in for a point and moments later Eamon Callaghan crashed a shot off the post before John Doyle added a forty fifth minute free.

Back came Down four to the good and both Peter Fitzpatrick and Paul McComiskey had shots cleared when maybe a point would have been the better option. Midway through the half Mark Poland and Karl Ennis exchanged pointed frees and Martin Clarke extended the Down lead with his third point, second free, after a foul on Daniel Hughes. Substitute Conor Maginn off the top of the bar and Peter Fitzpatrick from a sublime Martin Clarke pass added points as Down pushed on to go seven clear in the fifty eighth minute.

Kildare needed a goal and Eamon Callaghan who had started the scoring in the third minute popped up again to round Brendan McVeigh and shoot to the net, Down thoughts of the third Sunday in September on hold. However captain Coulter delivered the vital next score to take the sting out of the Kildare rally and when John Doyle sent a sideline ball wide Down had breathing space again.

In the sixty third and sixty fifth minutes Kildare midfielder Hugh Lynch sent over two of the nicest long range points out of nothing and suddenly there was only a goal between the teams. Another Down substitute Ronan Murtagh drilled over an important response a minute later but this proved Down’s last score and they ended up fighting a rear guard action for the remaining four minutes of normal time and five additional minutes played.

John Doyle converted yet another Kildare free to leave a goal in it and they seemed to think they needed a goal wasting two chances for points in their efforts to conjure a magical equalizer. Sub David Lyons pointed to leave two in it in the seventy first minute and though they huffed and puffed Kildare could not break through the Down defence. Then with only seconds remaining a twenty metre free was driven by Patrick Kelly into the goal mouth where despairing Down hands deflected the ball onto the bar and away to the wings and the game was over.

Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Dan Gordon, Damien Rafferty; Declan Rooney, Kevin McKernan (0-2), Conor Garvey; Peter Fitzpatrick (0-1), Kalum King; Daniel Hughes (0-2), Mark Poland (0-3), Paul McComiskey (0-1); Benny Coulter (1-2), John Clarke, Martin Clarke (0-3). Subs: Aidan Brannigan, Conor Maginn (0-1), Ronan Murtagh (0-1), James Colgan.

Kildare: Shane McCormack; Peter Kelly, Hugh McGrillan, Andrew MacLochlainn; Morgan O’Flaherty (0-1), Emmet Bolton (0-1), Brian Flanagan; Daryl Flynn, Hugh Lynch (0-2); James Kavanagh (0-1), Padraig O’Neill, Johnny Doyle (0-6); Eoghan O’Flaherty, Alan Smith, Eamonn Callaghan (1-1). Subs: Ronan Sweeney, Karl Ennis (0-1), David Lyons (0-1), Robert Kelly, Tomas O’Connor.

Referee: Pat McEneaney

Down manager James McCartan was pleased and relieved after the dramatic 1-16 to 1-14 win over Kildare in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final in Dublin. McCartan has proven to be an inspired appointment having turned around the Mourne County’s fortunes in his first season in charge.

“We were seven points up with ten minutes left but Kildare just kept coming and the last shot which hit the bar could have gone anywhere, we deserved to win over the seventy minutes, it was a great victory, but they probably deserved something for their last ten minutes” said McCartan. “We looked dangerous in patches and when we got the ball to our forward line we could create chances to score. We started off poorly and in the first quarter they dominated the break ball and we were living on scraps. We were delighted to get the goal and we kicked on from there, taking over in the last part of the first half and opening part of the second half. Peter Fitzpatrick came in and he is beginning to fulfil his potential while Kalum King had another monster game. We are delighted to have Martin Clarke back with us doing his stuff on the biggest stage in Ireland, he is such a vital player.”

McCartan went on to say that it’s important to get the players back down to earth “we have won nothing yet”

Benny Coulter praised his team’s defence after the narrow success at Croke Park “At the end it was a bit panicky but thankfully the final whistle blew. Our performance was good and the defence held out very well. We thought they would come out flying and we would have to stay with them, so we didn’t think we would be three points up after twenty five minutes. We are there in the final and we are absolutely delighted.”