Two goals from Eoin McCartan and a third from Kevin McKernan ensured the Mournemen did not leave Division 1 without a fight.
On paper, there may not have been much at stake for either team as there was an air of inevitability about Down’s relegation prospects. Yet just like they have done for most of this campaign, Down played with a lot of heart and on this occasion also got the result.
Kildare, already assured of a place in the league semi-finals, were in experimental mode as Kieran McGeeney took the opportunity to try Pádraig O’Neill at centre-back and Peter Kelly at wing-forward.
McGeeney is not someone who accepts defeat easily but he was not too perturbed on this occasion. Yes, his team were carved open a few times as Down walked the ball into the net and they hit 12 wides, which included some poorly hit frees from Seanie Johnston and Johnny Doyle. But there were a number of positives, such as the eye-catching display of Paul Cribbin who won a number of kickouts with some fine catches and kicked 0-2 in the second-half. Padraig O’Neill’s positioning at centre-back was not without its plus points and Johnny Doyle shrugged off a recent shoulder injury to land five points.
The continued run-outs for Leinster U21 winning players Sean Hurley and Niall Kelly will also benefit Kildare going forward. “We made a lot of silly mistakes and there was confusion which led to three goals, with fellas getting caught out of position,” said McGeeney. “But we changed a lot of things up. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. We will see what permutations we can come up with next weekend but we have a lot of work to do if we want to stay with Tyrone.”
For a team who knew what fate was likely to have in store for them, Down played with a lot of energy and purpose. Afterwards James McCartan was upbeat about the performance.
“There was an inevitability about us going down – though I thought midway through the second-half that if scoring difference was going to come into it, we were going to give ourselves a bit of a chance,” said the Down manager.
“But at least this gives us something to build on heading towards the Derry game [on Jun 2]. In six of our seven games we have been ahead at half-time but have not held on. This is the first time we have put two good halves back-to-back so we’re delighted with that.”
Down trailed by a point on three occasions in the first quarter but Eoin McCartan’s first goal in the 17th minute, after unselfish play by Benny Coulter, ignited their afternoon.
The goal still separated the teams at half-time, Down leading by 1-6 to 0-6.
Kildare picked off nice scores through Johnny Doyle and Eoghan O’Flaherty but Down found a unique way of resolving the defensive problems which have dogged their campaign, playing at one stage with all 15 men behind the ball.
The tactic worked, as they stripped Kildare of possession and ended up winning a free at the other end, which Donal O’Hare converted.
Two minutes after the interval, Eoin McCartan latched on to a loose ball to toe-poke the ball home into the net. With the Kildare defence uncharacteristically porous, McKernan stretched Down’s lead further with a third goal in the 55th minute. That put the home side nine points up.
Down have coughed up a few big leads this season and although Padraig O’Neill scored a late consolation goal as Kildare chalked up 1-2 without reply, Down held on comfortably.
Scorers for Down: K McKernan 1-3, E McCartan 2-0, D O’Hare 0-4fs, N Madine 0-2, R Boyle, B Coulter, P Devlin (f), R Mallon 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kildare: J Doyle 0-5 (3fs), P O’Neill 1-0, E O’Flaherty, P Cribbin 0-2 each, A Smith, P Kelly, E Callaghan 0-1 each.
Subs for Down: A McArdle for Quinn (30), R Mallon (0-1) for Coulter (ht), N Madine (0-2) for E McCartan (58), D Turley for P Turley (64), R Kelly for O’Hare (67).
Subs for Kildare: S Hurley for Flynn (42), F Dowling for Johnston (47), N Kelly for Callaghan (53), C McNally for Groome (58), T O’Connor for Smith (64).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).