A blistering second half scoring salvo from the Ardsmen, where they scored three quick-fire goals, overturned a two-point half-time deficit and laid the foundations for a comfortable win.
A lethargic opening by the hosts saw them trail 0-3 to 0-1 after 20 minutes. Down looked hungrier all over the pitch and appeared intent on exacting revenge for an earlier defeat in the season in the Christy Ring Cup. Derry talisman Ruairí Convery was forced off with a shoulder injury in the 5th minute and the omens looked ominous for Tom McLean’s men.
However, Derry suddenly found their feet in the latter phases of the half and out-scored Down by nine points to five. Indeed had it not been for a number of injury-time wides, the Oak Leafers would have enjoyed a much greater advantage than their 0-10 to 0-8 interval lead.
Danny Toner, with a quick fire hat-trick of scores, was Down’s best forward, while Paddy Henry was Derry’s top scorer with six first half points, including five frees.
But the game changed dramatically right at the start of the second half. It took the Ardsmen just six minutes to score 2-2.
In their very first attack of the second half Down’s Steven Dineen was denied by a smart save from Daryl McDermott, only to see Caolan Bailie react quickest and poke the ball home. Three minutes later Danny Toner sent a high dangerous ball into the square. McDermott rose to catch the ball and inadvertently parried the sliotar into his own net.
Derry responded through Kevin Hinphey’s point, but again Down went on a scoring spree and when Gareth Johnson rammed home their third goal in the 47th minute it ended the game as a contest.
Further points from Toner stretched the visitors lead to 3-13 to 0-11 by the 48th minute.
The home side refused to yield and a 57th minute Kevin Hinphey effort offered some hope, but teak-tough defending from Michael Johnston’s men denied any further goals, with Down running out five- point winners. Down will now face Antrim in this year’s Ulster senior decider.
P Henry 0-8 (0-7f), K Hinphey 1-1, P Cleary 0-3, A Kelly 0-1, S McGuigan 0- 1, A Grant 0-1, J O’Dwyer 0-1, B Douban 0-1
G Johnson 1-6 (0-5f), D Toner 1-6 (0-1f), C Bailie 1-1, D McManus 0-1, J Coyle 0-1.
D McDermott, M Warnock, C Quinn, S McCullagh (c), C McSorley, L Hinphey, R McCloskey, A Rafferty, S McGuigan, A Kelly, A Grant, K Hinphey, P Henry, R Convery, J O’Dwyer.
P Cleary for R Convery (5), E McGuckin for S McCullough (35), B Douban for A Kelly (43), D Foley for S McGuigan (63), T McCloskey for J O’Dwyer (65).
S Keith, S Ennis, C Woods, M Hughes, D McManus, C O’Neill, M McCullough, J McManus, D Hughes, S Dineen, D Toner, F Conway, C Bailie, G Johnson (c), J Coyle.
B Nicholson for R Branagan B/S (10), C Cassidy for J Coyle (47), P Sheehan for C Bailie (57), S Nicholson for D McManus (70).
Owen Elliott (Antrim)