Down 1-16 Kildare 1-14
Down survived in a heart-stopping finish at Croke park to reach their first All-Ireland football final since 1994.
Kildare fought their way back from seven points behind, only to be denied what would have been a sensational win by the crossbar deep into stoppage time.
Eamon Callagan sparked the Lilywhite revival with a goal, and it was substitute Robert Kelly who smashed a late free kick against the woodwork.
Now the Mourne men will take on Cork in next month’s Sam Maguire Cup decider confident in the knowledge that they have never lost an All-Ireland final in five previous attempts.
Both sides had made a character-building run through the Qualifiers, but the loss of midfielder Dermot Earley through injury was just too great of a handicap for Kildare to deal with.
Eamon Callaghan, James Kavanagh and Johnny Doyle were all on target in the opening stages as Kildare got off to an unusually strong start.
But Down got themselves right back into the game with a 12th minute goal. Benny Coulter punched home Marty Clarke’s delivery, but appeared to be in the square before the ball arrived.
After consulting with his umpire, referee Pat McEnaney allowed the goal to stand, and the Mourne men grew in confidence, pushing on with a couple of inspirational scores from centre back Kevin McKernan and a Mark Poland free.
Doyle knocked over two frees, but it was the Ulster side, with Peter Fitzpatrick and Kalum King getting on top at midfield, who grew in confidence.
Danny Hughes, Poland, Paul McComiskey and Clarke were all on target, before Coulter lifted Mourne spirits further with a sublime point, sliced over off the outside of his right boot in stoppage time to send his side in with a 1-9 to 0-7 interval lead.
Hughes and Clarke maintained their industrious input, their energy and mobility providing Down with qualities that their opponents struggled to replicate.
Clarke stretched the advantage to six from a free, and Kildare had gone 16 minutes without a score when centre back Emmet Bolton punished sloppy defending with a point.
They came close to a goal when Eamon Callaghan sent a shot crashing against a post, and Down also had a golden opportunity, but were denied by a double save involving Morgan O’Flaherty and goalkeeper Shane McCormack.
Down never allowed the tempo to wane, defending in numbers and breaking at pace on the counter after surviving a series of Lilywhite raids, and restored their five points cushion with Poland’s third free.
Peter Fitzpatrick, from Clarke’s perfect pass, had just opened up a seven points lead when Eamon Callaghan broke through a gap in the Down defence to smash home a goal.
Midfielder Hugh Lynch thumped over a couple of superb long range points, and with five to play, Kildare were within three points.
Doyle and David Lyons made it a one point game, and in the fourth minute of stoppage time, substitute Robert Kelly saw a thunderbolt free kick deflected on to the crossbar.
Kildare: S McCormack, P Kelly, H McGrillen, A MacLochlainn, M O'Flaherty (0-1), E Bolton (0-1), B Flanagan, D Flynn, H Lynch (0-2), J Kavanagh (0-1), P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, J Doyle (0-6, 5f), A Smith, E Callaghan (1-1).
Subs: R Sweeney for Flynn, K Ennis (0-1) for M O’Flaherty, D Lyons (0-1) for M O’Flaherty, R Kelly for Smith, T O’Connor for Lynch
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty, D Rooney, K McKernan (0-2), C Garvey, P Fitzpatrick (0-1), K King; D Hughes (0-2), M Poland (0-3, 3f), P McComiskey (0-1), B Coulter (1-2), J Clarke, M Clarke (0-3, 2f).
Subs: A Brannigan for Garvey, C Maginn (0-1) for J Clarke, R Murtagh (0-1) for McComiskey, J Colgan for Poland
Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan).