Derry 1-15 Down 2-17
Memories of an epic 1994 encounter came flooding back as Derry and Down rolled back the years to serve up a Celtic Park cracker.
And just as they did 19 years ago, the Mourne men came out on top to set up an Ulster SFC semi-final clash with All-Ireland champions Donegal.
Second half goals from Mark Poland and Donal O’Hare saw James McCartan’s side come from four points behind to win handsomely by five, with inspirational midfielder Kevin McKernan leading them, to victory in the closing stages.
Mark Lynch smacked in a first half goal to give the Oak Leafers a decided edge, but Down had the edge in flair and finishing power to see out a positive, entertaining and attacking contest.
Down made a flying start with scores from Mark Poland and Ambrose Rogers, and they moved into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead when Donal O’Hare tapped over a free in response to Charlie Kielt’s Derry opener.
Benny Heron slotted a ’45 between the posts, and James Kielt floated a long range effort between the posts, but the visitors, with Kalum King and Kevin McKernan getting through a lot of heavy work in the engineroom, kept their noses in front.
They led by 0-5 to 0-3 after 14 minutes, after McKernan had fired over a wonderful score, but the Oak Leafers went level with points from James Kielt and the hard-working and creative Enda Lynn.
It was fast-moving and attack-minded, a positive approach embraced by both sides, James Kielt drilling over another superb long range effort, and McKernan doing likewise at the other end.
But Derry’s movement and vision was creating openings and exposing weaknesses in the Down rearguard, with Eoin Bradley tormenting marker Benny McArdle every time the ball came his way.
Bradley used his ball-winning strength to turn his marker for a couple points, and it was James Kielt, with his third spectacular effort, who brought the sides level in the 27th minute.
That score marked the beginning of a golden spell for the home side, and after Bradley helped himself to two more scores, the Oak Leafers struck for a 31st minute goal.
It was Bradley who provided the pass for the inrushing Mark Lynch to gather and beat Brenadn McVeigh with a low finish.
They almost had second goal moments later, but Bradley was denied by a sensational McVeigh save.
Derry led by 1-10 to 0-9 at the break, but Down turned the tables with two superbly crafted goals in the third quarter.
Conor Laverty and Mark Poland swapped passes, before the latter’s final pass was flicked to the net by the intuitive O’Hare in the 45th minute.
Seven minutes later, the same three players were involved Down’s second goal. Laverty turned over possession 50 metres out, and picked out O’Hare, whose cross was finished past Eoin McNicholl by Poland.
Debutant Niall Madine slotted over his third point from play, and when Kalum King hit the target in the 55th minute, Down led by 2-14 to 1-12.
Lynch’s move to midfield helped Derry garner a greater share of possession in the middle third, but left gaps at the back that were later to be clinically punished.
James Kielt, Brian McCallion and Lynch all scored to bring Derry back to within two points, but O’Hare came close to putting the outcome beyond doubt when he smashed a shot against the butt of a post.
Down continued to drive forward, and in the closing stages, the brilliant McKernan put the game out of Derry’s reach when he galloped through the middle to fire over two wonderful scores.
Derry: E McNicholl, G O’Kane, C McKaigue, R Scott, C Kielt (0-1), M Lynch (1-1), B McCallion (0-1), P Bradley, R Bell, A McAlynn, J Kielt (0-5, 1f), E Lynn (0-1), B Heron (0-2, 1 ’45), E Bradley (0-4), C Delvin.
Subs: D Mullan for Bell, E McGuckin for Devlin, D Brown for McCallion, B Gormley for P Bradley.
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle, D Rooney (0-1), P Turley, K Quinn, K King (0-1), K McKernan (0-4), A Rogers (0-1), M Poland (1-2), N Madine (0-3), D O’Hare (1-4, 0-2f), B Coulter, C Laverty.
Subs: D Savage for Rogers, R Mallon for Quinn, J Johnston (0-1) for Coulter.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).