Easy for Down after Keenan’s early bath

The outcome of a poor game was effectively decided in the ninth minute when Daryl Keenan was given a straight red card, which ended Fermanagh’s hopes of pulling off an Ulster championship shock yesterday.

Down were workmanlike, but not brilliant. Nevertheless, it was still too good for 14-man Fermanagh who started without their enigmatic top scorer Seamus Quigley.

We will never know how this game would have panned out if it had stayed 15 versus 15, but the early red for Keenan, for an apparent punch on Down’s Conor Laverty, was the key moment. Referee Syl Doyle consulted with an umpire before flashing the red to the Tempo man, a decision which cost the Erne men any chance of victory.

Even when Fermanagh did have a full complement, the game was turgid and devoid of any expression or creative play.

The home side reacted to the dismissal by playing with one man up front and never really stood a chance. They needed a physical presence in attack and the absence of Quigley hurt.

Canavan scotched rumours he was dropped for failing to show up for training last week, but regardless of the reasons, he was a big loss.

By the time he came on in the 52nd minute, the game was over. He registered two frees but they barely raised a whimper among the Fermanagh fans, who were resigned to their fate long before.

Damien Kelly’s 46th-minute goal did give them brief hope.

They really needed to kick on from that score, which brought them back to within three points, but instead Down responded with an unanswered 1-2, the goal coming from man of the match Conor Laverty.

It was all quite comfortable for Down, who always looked the more purposeful side.

For a county with such a small pool of players, Fermanagh just could not afford to lose quality players such as McCabe, McCluskey and Quigley.

Marty McGrath was a late inclusion in the starting team and that should have been an inspirational move, but he was disappointing and was replaced early in the second half.

Barry Owens made a couple of telling interceptions for Fermanagh, otherwise they could have been ripped apart a few more times. As it was, Down led 1-6 to 0-3 at half-time, after Donal O’Hare’s 21st-minute goal.

O’Hare was a late inclusion in the team at full-forward and he justified that move by hitting 1-1 in the first half.

Conor Laverty, Down’s man with a box of tricks, was involved in the build-up and after tussling with the goalkeeper the ball ran lose. O’Hare pounced and drilled it high to the roof of the net to put Down 1-2 to 0-1 ahead.

With an early goal and an extra man, it already looked like a fairly convincing lead.

Down had 11 different players on the scoresheet — including their entire full-back line, which summed up the chaos. Numbers on the back of jerseys meant absolutely nothing in this game.

A point by Dan McCartan in the second half was typical of the fluidity on show.

A supposed corner-forward, Conor Maginn made a vital interception in his own full-back line and the counter-attack was launched.

The move ended a few seconds later up the other end of the pitch with Dan McCartan, supposedly a full-back, slotting over a point.

Fermanagh did get the last two scores of the first half to at least keep their fans interested in the second period, Damien Kelly providing them with a first point from play in the 35th minute.

However, remaining six points down, there didn’t seem any way back.

They did at least win the second half, by 1-5 to 1-4, Kelly’s goal coming after some quick thinking by sub Eamonn Maguire, who took a quick free and passed to the unmarked wing-back.

Kelly had a good tussle all afternoon with Danny Hughes, who, like Mark Poland, did not enjoy in these conditions with so little space to operate in.

Laverty’s goal in the 57th minute stretched Down’s lead out to eight points at one stage before Fermanagh tagged on three consolation scores.

Down manager James McCartan was relieved to have picked up only the second Ulster championship win of his three-year reign, but he will know his side need to perform much better than this if they are to end their 18-year Ulster title drought.

Scorers for Fermanagh: D Kelly 1-1, D Kille 0-3 (2f), S Quigley 0-2 (2f), P Ward, T Corrigan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 1-1, C Laverty 1-0, C Maginn, A Carr (1f), K McKernan, D O’Hagan, B McArdle, D McCartan, A Rogers, K King, K Duffin 0-1 each.

Subs for Fermanagh: E Maguire for B Óg Maguire (ht), C Quigley for Cox (ht), R Jones for McGrath (40), S Quigley for McElroy (52), P Ward for Kille (66).

Subs for Down: K Duffin for Carr (47), E McCartan for Poland (60), A McConville for Laverty (67), D Rooney for Rogers (69), D Turley for Brannigan (70).

Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford).

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