Allianz FL D2: Down retain status
*Allianz National Football League – Division 2 Relegation Play-Off *
DOWN 2-19 LAOIS 2-12
*By Gareth McCullough at Pairc Esler *
Down stayed in Division 2 with what proved to be a comprehensive win over Laois at Pairc Esler on Saturday night as Barry O’Hagan proved the star man once again.
The Clonduff forward grabbed one of Down’s goals and converted all nine of the frees he took to ensure his side retained their status in the second tier and relegate the away side on a balmy evening in Newry
It was Down who made much the brighter start with three points in the opening six minutes as they replicated their bright beginning in the previous match against Westmeath.
It was Caolan Mooney who opened their account in the second minute when he drove over from 40 metres, before Gerard Collins came forward from the full-back line to double the lead less than 60 seconds later. Barry O’Hagan then got the opening of his four first half frees in the sixth minute as Paddy Tally’s men took charge of the opening spell.
While Donie Kingston did open the Laois scoring with a close-range free on nine minutes, it was the hosts that were in the ascendancy. However, it took just three minutes before the first half water break for that 0-4 to 0-1 Down lead to be turned on its head as Mike Quirke’s side grabbed a goal and a point in quick succession and, only for some more fantastic goalkeeping from Down’s Rory Burns, it could have been even more beneficial to the visitors.
They got back on level terms on 13 minutes when a slick move involving the vastly experienced Colm Murphy and Kingston saw the latter offload to Evan O’Carroll and he managed to squeeze his shot through a crowd in the goalmouth.
From the kickout, Burns went short to Mooney, but his attempted offload was easily intercepted by O’Carroll who bore down on goal. However, just like in the previous day in Mullingar, Burns came to Down’s rescue with a brave stop form O’Carroll’s shot.
Laois keeper Niall Corbet converted the resultant ’45 to edge his side in front before Kieran Lillis made it 1-3 to 0-4 ahead of the first half water break. On the resumption, Down reduced the deficit to the minimum courtesy of the lively Liam Kerr, but on 22 minutes, Burns again had to be at his best to deny Patrick O’Sullivan a second Laois goal.
Murphy and O’Hagan (free) traded points before it was Corbet’s turn to show his ability between the posts to deny Cory Quinn a Down goal. A wonderful flowing move the length of the pitch saw the Mayobridge forward with his sights set on the net only for Corbet to make a stunning one-handed stop low to his left to keep it out.
Home captain Darren O’Hagan levelled matters on 26 minutes only for Colm Begley and Lillis to put Laois two to the good once more. But Barry O’Hagan knocked over a stoppage time free to put a point between the sides at the break and set up an intriguing second half.
The second half exploded to life inside the first couple of minutes with Down hitting the net twice, Laois missing a penalty, with the home side having a man black carded.
They got their opening maximum on 37 minutes when Ryan McEvoy’s hanging ball saw Barry O’Hagan outjump Corbet to flick it to the net. However, Laois went straight up the pitch and when McEvoy hauled down Lillis, the Kilcoo man was sin-binned with referee Jerome Henry awarding the visitors a penalty that Donie Kingston could only blast over the bar.
Down didn’t wilt though, and despite their numerical disadvantage, they got their second goal, courtesy of a lucky break when Mooney’s speculative fisted effort culminated in a goal.
Goalkeeper Corbet made slight amends with a ’45 before O’Hagan notched a pair of frees either side of an Eoin Lowry response, Corbet and O’Hagan then traded frees after Down has been restored to their full complement of players as the hosts took a 2-12 to 1-10 lead into the final quarter.
Cory Quinn got his first point on the match on 56 to edge Down six clear, and although they had Gerard McGovern sent off for two yellow cards, they rarely looked troubled.
Kingston and O’Hagan hit frees at either end, before Quinn from play and O’Hagan’s ninth and final placed ball three minutes before the end of regulation time put paid to any notion of a miraculous comeback.
There was till time for plenty more action in stoppage time as Kingston rammed home Laois’ second goal following a Stephen McConville point for Down, with Mooney and Conor McCrickard registering further points for the side in red either side of a Gary Walsh consolation for those in blue.
It means the visitors will ply their trade in Division 3 in 2022, while Down go into their Ulster Championship opener with Donegal in a fortnight’s time with renewed confidence.
Scorers for Down: Barry O’Hagan (1-9, 9f), Caolan Mooney (1-2), Cory Quinn (0-2), Liam Kerr (0-1), Darren O’Hagan (0-1), Pierce Laverty (0-1), Gerard Collins (0-1), Stephen McConville (0-1), Conor McCrickard (0-1, free)
Scorers for Laois: Donie Kingston (1-3, 2f, 0-1pen), Evan O’Carroll (1-0), Niall Corbet (0-3, 1f, 2’45), Kieran Lillis (0-2), Colm Begley (0-1), Eoin Lowry (0-1), Colm Murphy (0-1), Gary Walsh (0-1)
DOWN: Rory Burns; Gerard Collins, Gerard McGovern, Patrick Murdock; Pierce Laverty, Darren O’Hagan, Peter Fegan; Jonny Flynn, Caolan Mooney; Liam Middleton, Barry O’Hagan, Liam Kerr; Ceilum Doherty, Cory Quinn, Daniel Guinness.
Subs: Ryan McEvoy for Middleton (34), Stephen McConville for Doherty (57), Kevin McKernan for Fegan (60), James Guinness for Quinn (68), Conor McCrickard for Kerr (68), John McGeough for B O’Hagan (70+2), Ruairi McCrickard for Flynn (70+2)
LAOIS: Niall Corbet; Robert Pigott, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon; Seamus Lacey, Colm Begley, Patrick O’Sullivan; Kieran Lillis, John O’Loughlin; Sean Byrne, Paul Kingston, Eoin Lowry; Evan O’Carroll, Donal Kingston, Colm Murphy
Subs: Martin Scully for S Byrne (53), Mark Barry for P Kingston (53), Brian Byrne for Lowry (60), Brian Daly for Lillis (60), Gary Walsh for Lacey (65), Brendan Carroll for O’Carroll (70)
Ref: Jerome Henry (Mayo)