Down 1-13 Cavan 0-11, Casement Park
Captain Benny Coulter ensured it was first blood to Down in the Ulster SFC as he scored the only goal in a 1-13 to 0-11 preliminary round win over Cavan at Casement Park.
DCU’s Sigerson Cup hero Seanie Johnston landed 0-06 (2f) for an injury-hit Cavan outfit, but Coulter’s 55th-minute goal was decisive in sending Down through to a quarter-final clash with Donegal on June 4.
Coulter, who turns 24 next month, slipped in ahead of Cavan stopper James Reilly to palm to the net for a 1-09 to 0-08 buffer. Johnston kicked the next three points but scores from substitutes Ronan Murtagh and Ronan Sexton, Michael Walsh and Dan Hughes closed out the win for the Mourne men, who had midfielder Dan Gordon red carded right on 70 minutes.
Down, without an Ulster SFC title since 1994, came into the game on the back of three successive National League defeats. Martin McElkennon’s Cavan charges could also have been accused of being at a low ebb after they missed out on promotion from Division 2B last month with a final day loss at the hands of Waterford.
But the football was crisp and sharp from the off and a lively first half saw the sides level on six occasions – they ended it locked at 0-06 apiece. Paddy O’Rourke’s Down side were marginally on top and were left ruing five good goal chances with Mayobridge marksman Coulter being foiled on three occasions by Reilly in the Cavan goal.
Down led four times in the first half, although Larry Reilly put Cavan ahead after three minutes. Gordon replied with a fisted effort and James Reilly was on hand to twice deny Coulter soon after.
Whilst Hughes (0-02), Walsh, who finished with an 0-05 tally, Eoin McCartan and Ambrose Rogers kicked over further points for Down in the first half, Larry Reilly, the fit-again Ger Pierson, captain for the day Dermot McCabe and Johnston (0-02) replied for the Breffni blues.
Midfielder McCabe, who was leading the side due to centre back Anthony Forde’s suspension, was a handful throughout and only a timely challenge by Down centre-fielder Alan Molloy prevented the 6ft 2in Gowna man from firing in a goal on the 15-minute mark.
On 31 minutes, with his side 0-06 to 0-05 ahead, Down wing back Damien Rafferty missed another good goal chance as he raced onto a Liam Doyle pass only to push his effort wide. Johnston squared up the game, moments later, with his second point.
The second half began with Hughes and Cavan’s handball ace Paul Brady swapping points, and Johnston replied to a brace from the very effective Walsh.
A moment of magic from Coulter then turned the tie in Down’s favour as he latched onto a long ball and one-on-one with Reilly, he beat the ‘keeper with a fisted finish.
At the other end, the 21-year-old Johnston ended a barren 15-minute spell in front of goal for Cavan with a brilliant salvo of three points in as many minutes. Johnston got his side back within a point coming up to the hour mark as he kicked two frees and a point from play.
However, that was Cavan’s lot as four points on the bounce from Murtagh, Walsh, Sexton and Hughes ended the blues’ fight. In between, Gordon received his marching orders for a second yellow card offence, but Down had little trouble in seeing out a win which sees them Ballybofey-bound next month.
Scorers: Down: M Walsh 0-05, B Coulter 1-00, D Hughes 0-03, D Gordon, E McCartan, A Rogers, R Murtagh, R Sexton 0-01 each. Cavan: S Johnston 0-06 (2f), L Reilly 0-02, G Pierson, D McCabe, P Brady 0-01 each.
DOWN: B McVeigh; M Cole, B Grant, D McCartan; P Murphy, J Clarke, D Rafferty; A Molloy, D Gordon; E McCartan, A Rogers, D Hughes; L Doyle, B Coulter (capt), M Walsh.
CAVAN: J Reilly; M Hannon, P Reilly, K Fannin; M Cahill, A Gaynor, P Brady; D McCabe (capt), C Collins; M McKeever, P Reilly, S Brady; G Pierson, L Reilly, S Johnston.
Referee: Eugene Murtagh (Longford)