Down 1-14 Galway 5-19
The margin may have flattered Galway's hurlers in the end but Athenry sharpshooter Eugene Cloonan was full value at a wet and windy McKenna Park as his 4-07 haul proved to be the difference in the first of the All-Ireland SHC qualifiers.
The Mourne men’s championship dreams may be over after their fourth outing, but they refused to bend to their vaunted opponents, with Brendan McGourty and Andy Savage both pointing for an early 0-02 to 0-01 lead.
Indeed Down were just two points in arrears at the interval thanks to a run of five unanswered points, with corner forward Stephen Clarke striking three crisp frees in the absence of injured talisman Paul Braniff.
But Conor Hayes’ National league champions are made of sterner stuff and rolled off a stunning 4-10 in the second half, three of those goals from the hurl of classy Cloonan and a fourth from Alan Kerins with the game’s last puck to seal their qualifier progression.
Cloonan opened the scoring in Ballycran but McGourty and Savage had replied within six minutes.
Kerins lost his marker to square the game and the move of the first half on 10 minutes almost saw the first of Galway’s goals.
David Forde sent a low ball into David Hayes whose offload was brilliantly flicked over his head by David Tierney.
Damien Hayes raced onto the through ball but a stinging goal effort was brilliantly blocked by Down goalkeeper Graham Clarke for a ’65.
Cloonan pointed the placed ball and two minutes later deservedly claimed a goal after good work by David Hayes.
By that stage Down had hit six of their ten first half wides but straightened up well with Gareth Johnson, McGourty and Clarke hitting them back into contention between 24 and 29 minutes.
At the half hour they were just a point behind but points from David Hayes, Damien Hayes and Cloonan against Martin Coulter and Clarke’s fourth free from four saw Galway 1-08 to 0-09 in front at the break.
Championship debutant Andrew Bell, at the tender age of 19, had kept Kevin Broderick scoreless in the opening half but a Broderick point and 1-01 from Cloonan inside the first three minutes of the second half put Galway into the groove.
Coulter half volleyed home on 42 minutes to reduce the deficit back to four points but that was as close as the game got.
Coulter, Clarke and Andy Savage kept Down ticking with scores but the superior fitness of Galway’s attack saw two more goals for a hungry Cloonan on 52 and 67 minutes, and with Kerins firing past Clarke in the closing stages, the job was done and dusted.
David Tierney and Mark Kerins closed out the final quarter well with three points apiece.
Down: S Clarke 1-05 (5f), M Coulter 1-02, B McGourty, G Johnson, A Savage 0-02 each, G McGrattan 0-01
Galway: E Cloonan 4-07 (1 ’65, 5f), A Kerins 1-01, M Kerins, D Tierney 0-03 each, Damien Hayes 0-02, David Hayes, K Broderick, D Forde 0-01 each
Down: Graham Clarke; A Bell, E Dorrian, M Braniff; L Clarke, G Savage, Gabriel Clarke; G Adair, A Savage; G McGrattan, J Convery, B McGourty; M Coulter, G Johnson, S Clarke. Subs used: R Conlon for Braniff (68 mins)
Galway: L Donoghue; D Joyce, D Cloonan, O Canning; D Hardiman, D Collins, F Moore; F Healy, David Hayes; A Kerins, D Forde, D Tierney; Damien Hayes, E Cloonan, K Broderick. Subs used: M Kerins for Broderick (43 mins), T Og Regan for Collins (54 mins), R Gantley for Damien Hayes (65 mins), S Kavanagh for Hardiman (68 mins)
Yellow cards: G Savage (Down) 45 mins, D Cloonan (Galway) 55 mins