Down fight off London to progress to Ulster final

Down 4-16 London 1-16

Down 4-16 London 1-16

Down shook off the challenge of a determined London outfit, to finish with three goals to spare as they advanced to the Ulster SHC Final, thanks to a strong second-half display by Jim McKernan’s side before an attendance of 400 at Casement Park, Belfast.

Down got off to the perfect start when a composed Gareth Johnston poked a Simon Wilson free to the back of the London net after just a minute of action.

But London showed tremendous spirit throughout this game and quickly cut the deficit to a point thanks to scores from Kevin McMullen and Martin Finn on the full-forward line.

With a dry sod, this game ebbed and flowed as both teams equally shared possession, and although right half-forward Paul Braniff was on target with the next score to give his side a 1-1 to 0-2 lead after five minutes, the Exiles weren’t keen on playing second fiddle.

A well-drilled 21-metre free from full-forward Finn ensured his side took the lead for the first time in the ninth minute, and the Cork native was lethal throughout the 70 minutes for Mick O’Dea’s charges.

But with four of the next five points, Down held a 1-5 to 1-3 lead at the end of the opening quarter with Wilson, Andy Savage, Brendan McGourty and Johnston all converting scores.

London edged back with points from Conor O’Halloran and Chris McDonnell but Down were in superb firm and despite failing to take a second goal in the first half, after London keeper Gary McCollum pulled off a fine save from a Branniff shot, they were still deserving of a 1-9 to 1-6 interval lead.

It didn’t get any easier in the second half for the Exiles with Brendan McGourty taking their second goal a minute after the restart.

London battled hard, but still had a mountain to climb with the deficit at four points after Finn sent over his third score of the hour in the 43rd minute.

A brace of goals from Branniff in the 49th and 69th minutes firmly cemented the win, despite the efforts of Finn, who finished as the Exiles' top-scorer with 1-9.

DOWN: G Clarke; L Clarke, S Murray, F Conway; S Wilson (0-2, 2 65), K Courtney, G Clarke; A Savage (0-1), R McGrattan; P Braniff (2-4, 1f), B McGourty (1-3), E Trainor (0-1); E Clarke (0-1), G Johnson (1-2), S Clarke. Subs: B Ennis (0-2) for S Clarke (46); P Hughes for Wilson (58)

LONDON: G McCollum; B Mulcahy, S McLoughlin, T Simms; T Abernethy, N Healy, E Phelan; F McMahon (0-1), C O’Halloran (0-2); J McCarthy (0-2), S Quinn, M Mythen; K McMullen (0-1), M Finn (1-9, 1-8f), C McDonnell (0-1). Subs: M Traynor for McDonnell (41); S Malone for McCarthy (53)

REFEREE: Brendan Sweeney (Cavan)

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