Down throw off shackles in Ulster thriller

Derry 1-15 Down 2-17

Down throw off shackles in Ulster thriller

Forza Ulster Gaelic football, to be precise.

Donegal may yet undermine the quality of a brilliantly entertaining game of football in Celtic Park but let’s not yet lose that warm, fuzzy feeling yesterday’s fare left us with.

Three goals, 35 scores in total and just three of them coming from frees were the heartening statistics to glean from this encounter that displayed several of the game’s most endearing elements.

A 10,509 crowd were treated to a thrilling provincial quarter-final, which saw a Kevin McKernan-inspired Down transform a four-point deficit into a five-point win by the time David Coldrick called an end to ceremonies.

Coldrick blew for 35 frees in total but he was hardly conspicuous by his absence in a game that was left flow because it deserved to flow with so much positivity on offer.

And yet Down, operating a sweeper — Peter Turley — in the first half to little or no effect, could have been blown out of the water had Eoin Bradley, virtually unmarkable in the opening 37 minutes, not been denied a goal by a marvellous Brendan McVeigh save.

Derry, leading 1-10 to 0-9 at the interval, also had another four quick wides at the outset of the second half and they were made to pay for spurning those opportunities.

They did stretch their lead to five one minute into the new half but Niall Madine and Mark Poland points were followed by a superbly-worked goal by Donal O’Hare.

The corner forward applied the finishing touch with his hand but the score was all in the making as a delightful Mark Poland one-two with Conor Laverty pierced the Derry centre.

That tied up the game, 1-11 apiece, and the tie was squared up for a fifth and final time in the 49th minute when O’Hare added a point.

After that, Derry, whose defence had been good without doing anything overly impressive in the first half, were second best.

Down’s second goal came courtesy of Laverty intercepting an Eoin McNicholl restart and just like the first his partners-in-crime, O’Hare and Poland, were involved in a lightning-quick attack.

On this occasion it was O’Hare who assisted Poland whose ground kick bellowed the Derry net for the second time in eight minutes.

Kalum King followed up in the afterglow of the score to put Down five ahead with 15 minutes left.

A James Kielt score stopped the rot for Derry and when it was followed by a Brian McCallion point it was a three-point game once more.

O’Hare could have put the game beyond Derry when he rocketed a shot against the bottom of McNicholl’s right post and the home team took full advantage of the reprieve with captain Mark Lynch angling over a score.

But just when another comeback looked possible, up stepped McKernan. His first of two points in four minutes was a gem of a score although Derry should have done better in hunting him down.

The 2010 All Star soloed 70 yards through the heart of the opposition’s defence before sidefooting with the outside of the boot over the bar despite being off-balance.

It put three between the teams again and he made it four in the 69th minute with a great fetch from a restart and then he finished the move similar to his previous effort to give Down a vital two-score cushion.

Jerome Johnston added a sweetener in injury-time to put the game beyond doubt to complete a marvellous turnaround for Down.

They had begun the quicker of the blocks with Poland and Ambrose Rogers finding their range inside the first two minutes.

A further couple of minutes into the game and Coldrick had issued two yellow cards but was to reach into his pocket just three more times in the remaining 70 minutes.

Charlie Kielt opened Derry’s account and by the 20th minute they had hauled Down back level thanks to an Enda Lynn point in a move which he had initiated.

Eoin Bradley was lethal in the first half just as James Kielt was picking off scores from distance.

They went ahead for the first time in the 29th minute via Bradley’s second point in as many minutes and then Kielt knocked over another.

The margin became five when Lynch took receipt of a Bradley pass to beat McVeigh, which brought the home support in the stand to their feet.

A Declan Rooney point from long range cushioned the blow a little but what was most important was McVeigh’s terrific save from Bradley as the half drew to a close. But for it, we might have been talking of a third Derry-Donegal Ulster meeting in as many years.

Instead, it will be Down who will aim to do what no team has yet done to Jim McGuinness’ side in the province.

A daunting prospect no doubt but they’ll fuel themselves on this win for the days to come.

Scorers for Derry: J Kielt 0-5 (1f); E Bradley 0-4; M Lynch 1-1; B Heron 0-2 (1 45); C Kielt, E Lynn, B McCallion 0-1 each.

Subs for Derry: D Mullan for Bell (inj 53); E McGuckin for Devlin (58); D Brown for McCallion (63); B Gormley for P Bradley (68); L Kennedy for Heron (70).

Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 1-4 (0-2f); M Poland 1-2; K McKernan 0-4; N Madine 0-3; A Rogers, D Rooney, K King, J Johnston 0-1 each.

Subs for Down: D Savage for Rogers (52); R Mallon for Quinn (59); J Johnston for Coulter (64); O Costello for Poland (72).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

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