It’s free and easy for Braniff

DOWN’S hurlers strolled to an Ulster SHC semi-final, hammering Derry by 16 points at Casement Park yesterday.

Early first-half goals from Gareth Johnson and Paul Braniff set the scene for a Down win, but Alan Grant replied with a Derry major before the break to keep the Oak Leafers in contention.

A Braniff free completed the first-half scoring with Down 2-7 to 1-6 to the good, and the dead-ball expert added two more just after the restart. Derry replied through Ruairi Convery with the first of just three second-half scores.

Down, meanwhile, grew in confidence, with James Coyle, Johnson, Benny Ennis and Scott Nicholson all supplementing Braniff’s frees. Johnson put the game beyond any doubt on 60 minutes with Down’s third goal, touching Andy Savage’s free to the net for a 3-15 to 1-9 lead. As the game limped to a finish, Down tacked on a further four points to set up a semi-final meeting against Armagh in two weeks’ time.

Down manager Ger Monan now has his first free weekend since April 24, before facing the Orchard men at Casement Park in a fortnight.

“I thought in the second half we played some outstanding hurling. The two goals at the start were a big help but sometimes we can switch off when we get a good start,” said Monan.

“Paul Braniff and ‘Magic’ Johnson played well, Scott Nicholson came in and did well, Michael Hughes at the back, all the players fought well.

“We were disappointed at half time. We hadn’t played well, maybe last weekend was something to do with that, but we knew it was either play well for 35 minutes or the season was over, and we want to keep it going as long as possible.

“Armagh are a big physical team the same as Derry and we need to get focused. If we play like we did in the second half we’ve a good chance, if we play like we did in the first we’ll struggle.

Scorers for Derry: R Convery 0-5 (4f), A Grant 1-0, K Hinphey 0-2, O McCloskey, O Doherty 0-1 each.

Scorers for Down: P Braniff 1-10 (0-10f), G Johnson 2-2, S Nicholson, S Clarke, B Ennis 0-2 each, J Coyle, D Toner, E Clarke 0-1 each.

DERRY: D McDermott; L Hawkins, M Craig, C Quinn; C McKenna, L Hinphey, R McCloskey; K Hinphey, O McCloskey; A Grant, C McKeever, P Henry; P Kelly, R Convery, O Doherty.Subs: M Fitzpatrick for O Doherty, D McCloskey for C Quinn, S Farren for P Kelly.

DOWN: G Clarke; M Hughes, C Coulter, S Ennis; K McGarry, C Woods, M Ennis; A Savage, E Clarke; S Nicholson, P Braniff, S Clarke; B Ennis, G Johnson, J Coyle.Subs: C Mageean for S Clarke, D Toner for J Coyle, G Clarke for K McGarry. Referee: O Elliott (Antrim).

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