Down 1-13 Meath 0-14
Down’s long wait for a victory is over, and the pressure has been lifted from hard-pressed manager Eamonn Burns after they took the points from their NFL Division Two clash with Meath at Pairc Esler, writes Francis Mooney.
After losing 14 games on the trot in league and championship, the Mourne men finally rediscovered that winning feeling, easing past Meath by a narrow two points margin.
Down couldn’t have imagined a better start, a goal after less than two minutes.
Joe Murphy punched past Paddy O’Rourke from Darragh O’Hanlon’s driven free, and the Mourne fans were cheering once again.
The Royals adapted a route one approach with long ball directed at target man Brian Sheridan, and he created two scores for Brian Lenihan.
Barry O’Hagan fired over a Mourne point, but with Bryan Menton getting on plenty of ball around midfield, and Brian Power and Alan Forde pressing from deep, the Leinster men carried a threat.
But it amounted to little more than a threat, for their finishing was extremely disappointing, and a spell of pressure produced nothing more than a well executed James Toher free from wide on the right.
Otherwise, it was a case of running into blind alleys as the Down defence dealt rather comfortably with a series of attacks.
The Mourne men weathered the storm to come out and hot three points on the spin, two of them from O’Hanlon frees, the other gifted to Conor Maginn.
Meath went 29 minutes without a score from play, before defender Donal Keogan pressed forward to link with Cillian O’Sullivan and kick a point.
But the home side responded with scores from Ryan Johnston and Aidan Carr, to take a 1-8 to 0-6 lead into the break.
Toher thumped over a spectacular score to narrow the gap, and as both sides struggled to impose themselves as a potent attacking force, Down centre back Conaill McGovern traded scores with Lenihan.
Goalkeeper O’Rourke spread himself to deny Barry O’Hagan, but Down kept the pressure on and pushed further ahead through O’Hanlon and Kevin McKernan
An injection of fresh legs off the bench promised to revive Meath fortunes, with substitute Bryan McMahon clipping over a tidy score, and two more Lennihan frees kept them very much alive.
But Down kept their opponents at arm’s length with scores from Jerome Johnston and Kevin McKernan.
However, they had to endure a nervous finish. A goal behind deep into injury time, Lenihan went for the net from a free, and his screamer was deflected over the bar by Gerard McGovern.
Down: M Reid; R McAleenan, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (0-4, 3f), C McGovern (0-1), C Mooney; P Turley, A Carr (0-1); K McKernan (0-2), C Maginn (0-1), J Murphy (1-0); S Millar, B O’Hagan (0-2), R Johnston (0-1).
Subs: B McGovern for C McGovern (45), J Johnston (0-1) for O’Hagan (49), M Poland for Mooney (65), P Devlin for R Johnston (68)
Meath: P O’Rourke, D Keogan (0-1), C McGill, R O Coileain; W Carry, B Power, S McEntee; B Menton, J Toher (0-2, 1f); A Forde, C O’Sullivan, C O’Brien; G Reilly (0-2), B Sheridan, D Lenihan (0-8, 7f).
Subs: B McMahon (0-1) for O’Sullivan (h-t), E Wallace for O’Brien (47), J Wallace for Forde (58), D Toner for McEntee (61), S Tobin for Sheridan (68)
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).