Carlow 1-15 Down 0-14
Carlow retained the Christy Ring Cup thanks to a late flourish at a rain-soaked Croke Park this afternoon.
Robert Foley’s 69th-minute goal was the vital score in a game which ebbed the flowed throughout, with the sides level on 11 occasions.
Tied at the interval at 0-07 apiece, the sides were inseparable until Foley's goal. Craig Doyle provided the insurance point late on as Carlow claimed a narrow but deserved win.
Foley top scored with 1-03, helping the Barrowsiders secure their place in next year’s All-Ireland series.
In front of a 3,978-strong crowd, Down were left ruing a final wides tally of 11 wides, including seven in a first half where Jim McKernan's charges could have been well in front.
However, defending champions Carlow were full value for their win and gave their all in an entertaining encounter.
Kevin Ryan's Carlow side began the final in determined fashion with their captain Mark Brennan leading by example with one of the first scoring chances.
In the second minute, Brennan watched his shot from 35 metres come back off the post, but there was better luck when Shane Kavanagh sent over the opening score from a ‘65'.
Carlow continued to press hard with Paudie Kehoe turning on his right from 45 metres out, however he drilled his shot wide of the target.
The early scoring opportunities fell the Barrowsiders’ way but Down were dogged, with points from Paul Braniff and Simon Wilson ensuring a 0-02 to 0-01 lead for them by the tenth minute.
Carlow hit back to score four of the next five points and lead by 0-05 to 0-03 with 14 minutes to go before the interval.
Kehoe tormented the Down defence but if Carlow were clinical in their shooting, Down had plenty of scoring opportunities themselves and they were beginning to make them tell on the scoreboard.
Braniff and Wilson were again on target, with the sides level at 0-05 apiece, seven minutes before the break.
In an evenly-balanced contest, the sides traded scores on two occasions before the interval, ensuring a deadlock for half-time at 0-07 apiece.
Both sides improved their shooting in the second half, but the respective defences also stood firm – with the battle for silverware now being taken to another level.
The intensity of general play rose but so too did the level of rain. It started as a light drizzle but quickly developed into a heavy shower.
Not deterred by the elements, both sides battled bravely with the talismanic Braniff on fire for Down in the second half.
Braniff and Wilson added early points before Down defender Sean Ennis denied Kehoe after Carlow had won a penalty in the 43rd minute.
These were good times for Down, however Carlow bounced back with a brace of points to level the tie for the sixth time, 10 minutes into the second half.
The sides went point for point between the 46th and 67th minutes, until Carlow's late surge left the outcome of this game beyond doubt.
The crucial goal arrived three minutes from time when Andrew Gaule dispatched the ball from 65 metres out into full-forward Foley who powered the ball to the net.
Although there were calls for a penalty after Foley was swung around in the small square by Down full-back Stephen Murray, referee Tommy Ryan applied the advantage rule with Foley turning and planting the ball past goalkeeper Graham Clarke.
Craig Doyle added a late point and minutes later Carlow skipper Mark Brennan gratefully accepted the cup from GAA President Christy Cooney.
Scorers – Carlow: R Foley 1-03, P Kehoe 0-05 (0-04f), C Doyle 0-02 (0-01f), S Kavanagh (0-01 ‘65’), A Gaule, E Coady, E Byrne, J Coady 0-01 each.
Down: S Wilson 0-07 (0-07f), P Braniff 0-04, C O'Prey, J Coyle, A Higgins 0-01 each.
CARLOW: F Foley; W Hickey, S Kavanagh, D Shaw; E Coady, J Rodgers, D Byrne; J Hickey, D Roberts; R Dunbar, M Brennan, C Doyle; A Gaule, R Foley, P Kehoe.
Subs used: E Byrne for Dunbar (29 mins), J Coady for Kehoe (62).
DOWN: G Clarke; F Conway, S Murray, S Ennis; R McGratten, K Courtney, M Ennis; A Savage, C Woods; C O'Prey, P Braniff, S Wilson; J Coyle, G Johnston, O Clarke.
Subs used: A Higgins for O Clarke (53 mins), M Og Coulter for Coyle (54).
Referee: Tommy Ryan (Tipperary).