Down 1-16 Leitrim 1-08
Leitrim’s quest for a first ever win in the All-Ireland qualifiers continues after Down stepped up a gear in the second half at Pairc Esler in Newry.
Down led by 1-5 to 0-6 at the interval having played against the wind but were rocked by a goal for Leitrim from Adrian Croal.
The response from the All-Ireland finalists was superb as James McCartan’s men hit eight points without reply to book their place in the next round.
The hero of the day for Down was Benny Coulter who landed seven points from play in an outstanding performance that broke Leitrim’s hearts.
Earlier, a penalty from Marty Clarke after 15 minutes put Down in the driving seat when he slotted home in to the bottom right corner after Leitrim full-back John McKeon was guilty of a foot block as Conor Laverty bore down on goal.
The goal put Down 1-3 to 0-1 in front and it seemed as if the All-Ireland finalists would pull away from there but Leitrim, who played seven men in defence, rallied superbly and hit three points without reply from Adrian Croal, Robert Lowe and Emlyn Mulligan.
Coulter scored three points in that opening half and they led by two at the interval with wind advantage to come.
But they were rocked when Brian McDonald put Croal through for a goal 90 seconds after the restart to put Leitrim a point in front.
But Coulter led the admirable Down response and they killed off notions of a shock with eight unanswered points.
Liam Doyle, Mark Poland, Marty Clarke and Kevin McKernan found the range but it was Coulter who had the crowd on its feet with some magnificent scores which killed off the Leitrim challenge.
A point from sub Peter Fitzpatrick put Down 1-13 to 1-6 in front after 54 minutes before Mulligan stopped the rot with a pointed free fourteen minutes from the end.
But there was little hope of Leitrim rallying as they just did not have the firepower to threaten a Down defence which got on top in the second-half.
Coulter landed his seventh and was then given a standing ovation as he was hauled ashore to recouperate for the next test as Down eased their way into the next round.
Marty Clarke finished the game strongly with a pointed 45 and Conor Laverty also found the range before the end after Leitrim sub Conor Kelly had pointed from a difficult angle on the right.
Down will need to improve if they are to repeat last year’s run to the All-Ireland final but with Coulter in this sort of form, few teams will fancy meeting them.
Down: B McVeigh; B McArdle, K McKernan (0-1), A Branagan; D Rooney, K Duffin, C Garvey; D Gordon, K King; L Doyle (0-1), M Clarke (1-2, 1-0pen, 1’45), B Coulter (0-7); M Poland (0-2, 1f), C Laverty (0-2), P McComiskey.
Subs: C Maginn for McComiskey, 40; P Fitzpatrick (0-1) for Duffin, 42; C Mooney for Doyle, 58; A Carr for Coulter, 62; D Raferty for Garvey, 65
Leitrim: C McCrann; P Maguire, J McKeon, D Reynolds; B Prior, G Reynolds, D Beck; D Lowe, D Sweeney; R Lowe (0-1), B McDonald (0-1), C Clarke; E Mulligan (0-3fs), J Glancy (0-1), A Croal (1-1).
Subs: C Kelly (0-1) for McDonald, inj, 44; C Sheridan for R Lowe, 52; B McWeeney for G Reynolds, 58; F Clancy for Clarke, 65.
Referee: M Sludden (Tyrone).