All-Ireland SFC Quarter-Final
Down 1-16 Kerry 1-10
Munster and All-Ireland champions Kerry relinquished their grasp on the Sam Maguire Cup as Down dazzled at a damp Croke Park to qualify for their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1994.
A goal after 51 seconds from Mark Poland showed Down’s obvious intent and they were full value for their 1-7 to 0-4 half-time lead, with rustiness a concern for Kerry, playing for the first time in four weeks.
Kerry boss Jack O’Connor opted to move Kieran Donaghy to midfield for the second half, but the switch failed to pay off and Donncha Walsh’s dismissal in the 46th minute left the defending champions with a mountain to climb.
Helped by the brilliance of Colm Cooper, who top scored with 0-7, they got back within three points and Donaghy had two goal-bound efforts saved by Down net minder Brendan McVeigh.
Nonetheless, Down’s hunger and sharpness was infectious and they lorded the closing stages, kicking seven points in the final 12 minutes to coast through to the last four.
The result maintained Down’s unbeaten run against Kerry in SFC action, following their victories in 1960, 1961, 1968 and 1991, and represents the Kingdom’s first quarter-final defeat since the qualifier system was introduced in 2001.
With suspended duo Tomás Ó Sé and Paul Galvin adding to Kerry’s list of absent players, it quickly became apparent that Down were in no mood to pay their respects to the title holders.
Micheal Quirke turned over possession and when Tom O’Sullivan was caught out by Paul McComiskey’s dinked through ball, Poland unleashed a well-placed shot to the far left corner of the net for Down’s opening blow.
In wet and unseasonal conditions, James McCartan’s men added three points through Benny Coulter, captain Ambrose Rogers and Paul McComiskey to lead by 1-3 to 0-0 after 11 minutes’ play.
McComiskey managed to sneak his shot inside the right hand post after a good delivery from Martin Clarke, whose distribution, scoring ability and extra work in defence marked him out as the man-of-the-match.
In contrast, Kerry were struggling to find their scoring range. Their skipper Bryan Sheehan kicked three wides before opening their account in the 14th minute, after Donaghy had left marker Dan Gordon in his wake.
Cooper sidestepped away from Damien Rafferty to point on the turn and tagged on a 20th minute free, awarded for a heavy challenge by Gordon on Kerry’s number 13.
A soft free allowed Cooper close the gap to 1-3 to 0-4 and Kerry were beginning to motor, particularly in the middle third where they won eight kick-outs in succession.
Not for the only time this afternoon, referee Joe McQuillan took centre stage when Kerry defender Killian Young had a goal disallowed for an illegal handpass. It was a harsh call against Donncha Walsh, as television replays showed his delivery to Young seemed spot on.
The game swung back in Down’s favour as the first half came to a close, with Martin Clarke knocking over two points in as many minutes – the second a lovely lofted shot from a tight angle on the left.
His brother John Clarke was fouled by Tommy Griffin for a pointed free from Poland who then took his tally to 1-2 with a clever run in from the right and well-struck point.
Kerry lost giant midfielder Micheal Quirke to injury, and some great work from Martin Clarke in defence, where he intercepted a pass from substitute David Moran as Cooper threatened, gave Down additional encouragement.
The sun came out for the second half and there was a more even feel to proceedings as Cooper and Sheehan traded points with Clarke and McComiskey. Donaghy was pulled back to midfield, his old stomping ground, and former captain Declan O’Sullivan was positioned at full-forward for Kerry.
But the switches had little impact as Down’s hard graft and intelligent use of possession kept them on the right road. There was a degree of pressure on them when Cooper strung together two points, the second after a well-balanced run and jink onto his right.
However, an incident in the midst of that saw Kerry wing forward Walsh sent off for his second bookable offence, a neck high challenge on Poland.
Referee McQuillan ruled out a Down for another illegal handpass, this time Coulter’s feed to the diving McComiskey was whistled up. Kerry were not going to crumble, and although McVeigh’s point blank save denied Donaghy a certain goal, Sheehan followed up to point the ‘45’ and make it 1-9 to 0-9.
Six minutes later, Down set off on a scoring burst which would see them end up as comfortable winners. Substitute Conor Maginn kickstarted it and the increasingly influential Coulter added his second point.
It was now one-way traffic as Down piled forward through midfield where 14-man Kerry had no answer. In previous matches and recent seasons, their bench had come to the rescue but youngsters like Barry John Keane, Kieran O’Leary and Anthony Maher were never likely to be match winners today.
Coulter showed his class with a sublime score, sidestepping into space from a tight angle on the left. A curling effort from midfield from substitute Ronan Murtagh pushed Down’s lead to 1-13 to 0-9 with just six minutes of normal time remaining.
Kerry’s hopes hung on a quick goal and McVeigh stood in their way again, when Cooper somehow fed Donaghy near a crowded square but the Down stopper dived low to his left to thwart Donaghy.
Cooper hit his seventh point – fifth from a free – soon after, and while Down’s wides tally went into double figures, they were now scoring at will. Clarke kicked a left-footed free, substitute Peter Fitzpatrick scored from play and Rogers raided through for an injury-time effort which could easily have been a goal.
A harsh call against Gordon, who was adjudged to have brought a flailing Donaghy down, gave Kerry the consolation of a penalty which Moran stroked home. It made little difference, Down were out of sight and already licking their lips at the prospect of an August semi-final.
Scorers: Kerry: C Cooper 0-7 (0-5f), D Moran 1-0 (1-0 pen), B Sheehan 0-3 (0-1f, 0-1 ‘45’)
Down: M Poland 1-2 (0-1f), M Clarke 0-4 (0-2f, 0-1 ‘45’), B Coulter 0-3, P McComiskey, A Rogers (0-1 ‘45’) 0-2 each, C Maginn, R Murtagh, P Fitzpatrick 0-1 each
Kerry: B Kealy; M O Se, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; A O'Mahony, M McCarthy, K Young; S Scanlon, M Quirke; Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, B Sheehan (capt).
Subs used: D Moran for Quirke (35 mins, inj), BJ Keane for Scanlon (45), K O’Leary for Darran O’Sullivan (49), D Bohan for O’Mahony (55-57, blood sub), D Bohan for Young (59), A Maher for Sheehan (63).
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty; D Rooney, K McKernan, C Garvey; A Rogers (capt), K King; D Hughes, M Poland, P McComiskey; B Coulter, J Clarke, M Clarke.
Subs used: C Maginn for J Clarke (49 mins), R Murtagh for McComiskey (57), P Fitzpatrick for King (68), R Sexton for Poland (70).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)