Down avoid giant killing at hands of Longford

Down 1-14 Longford 1-10

Longford’s giant-killing heroics ended at Pairc Esler tonight as Down did the business in this All-Ireland second round qualifier.

Down made hard work of it in the second half, having established a 0-9 to 0-3 half-time lead. Martin Clarke pointed three times for the Mourne men in the opening 35 minutes, with Longford goalkeeper Damien Sheridan making two superb saves.

The home side managed to stay ahead during a second half which saw Callum King and Shane Mulligan sent-off, and Clarke (penalty) and Longford’s top scorer Francis McGee both found the net.

Down lined out with Dan Gordon as a makeshift full-back, filling in for the injured Brendan McArdle, and Longford hit the front in the third minute through the impressive McGee.

But by the midpoint of the first half, James McCartan's men had broken into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead. Mark Poland, Benny Coulter, John Clarke and Danny Hughes, who saw plenty of ball, all struck points.

In very wet conditions, McGee accounted for Longford's opening three points - direct from frees - but Down were finding scores from play far easier to come by.

They were also negating the threat of Paul Barden, with Declan Rooney doing a fine man-marking job and Ambrose Rogers acting as a sweeper to aid his defence in keeping the dangerous Brian Kavanagh out of the game.

At the other end, Longford net minder Sheridan was playing a blinder. He kept his team in the hunt with two inspirational stops in the fifth and 28th minutes. However, Poland and Hughes both doubled their tallies and Martin Clarke collected his third point in injury-time to leave six between the sides at the break.

There was a scuffle involving a number of players and officials as the second half got underway. A late challenge on Coulter seemed to spark it, and when tempers cooled, referee Martin Higgins gave yellow cards to Shane Mulligan and Danny Hughes.

Longford substitute Noel Farrell and Hughes swapped frees but the visitors were beginning to improve, as evidenced by Paul Barden's point from the sideline for a 0-10 to 0-5 scoreline.

Down were quick to respond, however, and defender Rooney broke upfield to point after a quick passing movement involving five players. And when Clarke stuck his penalty effort away in the bottom left corner, after a harsh foul awarded against Dermot Brady, the home side had a 1-11 to 0-6 lead. Brady was whistled up for what looked a legitimate shoulder-led challenge on King.

Longford's scoring maestro on the night, corner forward McGee, put the game back in the melting pot with a quick 1-1, his goal coming after his initial shot had been blocked by goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh.

McGee took his tally to 1-6 (0-5f) as Longford cut the gap to three points and Down lost King for his second bookable offence. Longford wing back Mulligan was also dismissed, shortly afterwards, for his second yellow card.

Both teams had 14 players apiece, but Down had done enough to maintain the difference on the scoreboard, Hughes notching the insurance point in injury-time as Longford's summer campaign ground to a halt in soggy Newry.

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