Allianz 3rd Division.
Pairc Esler, Newry.
Down 0-10 Westmeath 0-09.
Match Report by Sean Forsythe.
A late Jerome Johnston free secured Down’s second injury-time win in the space of seven days as Down came away the victors in the Division Three clash in Newry against Westmeath.
Last night’s result follows last week’s win against Sligo which was only achieved thanks to a late goal from a free on the 45-yard line from Caolan Mooney.
This week’s win proved a much tougher proposition, however, as Down played from the middle of the first half with just 14 men due to Pat Havern in the front forward position being red carded in the 24th minute for an off-the-ball incident. But the Mournemen buckled down to the new reality and re-organised well.
The result marks the first time Down have won back-to-back league matches in almost two years having last done so in March 2017. Crucially for this season, the win continues their progress up the table as they are now guaranteed to overtake Westmeath who had been above them in the table heading into this weekend’s fixtures.
On a cold night in Newry, Down got off to a blazing start when they scored from their first attack of the game in just over a minute. Ryan Johnston put the ball over the bar following an attack involving Caolan Mooney and Donal O’Hare which included fine displays of Strength and Pace.
The score would be the only time Down got ahead of Westmeath until the late winner and Down fans were on tenterhooks. Westmeath responded in the 7th minute when Ger Egan levelled with a free from 40m.
Down defence were pressuring Westmeath well and pursued in packs. However, after 13 minutes, a long ball delivered by Frank Boyle resulted in a foul on Tommy McDaniel and a penalty for the visitors.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man… and Down keeper Rory Burns saved the day as he got down at full stretch to prevent a low volley to the inside right post. The man from ‘The Town’ delighted the home crowd who turned out in force to support the Down team.
Another key moment in the game came just over 10 minutes later as Havern received his marching orders following an incident with Kieran Martin who incidentally had been sent off the week previous. At the time of the sending off for Havern, Down were trailing 2-1 following a point by Sam Duncan for the Leinster men.
Any possibility of Westmeath extending their lead after the red was put to an end after 2 minutes when Donal O’Hare equalised for Down from a free he had earned himself. O’Hare continues his fine scoring record for Down in the league having been top league scorer for Down in 5 of the last 6 seasons.
The game opened up slightly after Down were reduced to 14 as both teams traded fine scores prior to Half time. Of note Boidu Sayeh who had been tasked with marking Donal O’Hare proved he was equally capable of putting over a point as he scored with his left to put Westmeath 4-3 ahead. Westmeath went into half time ahead by a scoreline of 0-4 to 0-5.
Down began the second half well. Similar as in the first half, Ryan Johnston opened the scoring for Down and the Mournemen were level again.
Having been brought on along with Conor Maginn at the start of the half, Connaire Harrison got involved straight away as he provided the layoff to Poland who levelled the scores at 6 each.
In what was proving to be a blow for blow encounter, Westmeath eventually put a bit of added distance between the sides as Luke Loughlin grabbed his second point of the game to put Westmeath 8-6 ahead after 14 minutes of the second half.
Down refused to let the game get away from them and 2 minutes later Donal O’Hare pulled one back to make it 8-7.
Down got level once again in the 17th minute of the second half as Conor Poland put the ball over the bar and the scores stood at 8-8 heading into the final 15 minutes.
After a scoreless 10 minutes, Down went behind once again following a Ger Egan score and Down trailed 9-8 with 28 minutes of the second half played.
Despite being a man down for most of the encounter, the Down defence was holding firm which would be crucial if Down were going to have any chance of snatching the win late on. When Donal O’Hare levelled for Down with just 2 minutes plus injury time left, Down needed just one more point to win.
Down sub forward Conor McGrady made an excellent charge at the Westmeath goals but was eventually dispossessed by the solid Westmeath back wall.
But Caolan Mooney knew the urgency of the situation as vital seconds ticked by and he set up Jerome Johnston for the chance which would lead to the winning move. When Johnston received the ball he was fouled on the 45m line and Down had a chance to get their noses in front and snatch the win. What stood in between was a mammoth kick from 45m.
Jerome Johnston proved it was within his striking range, however, and he set the ball on its way and straight between the posts to secure the win then the referees whistle blew to end the match.
The change in score sent the local crowd home happy whilst those travelling back to Leinster could be left feeling slightly hard done by as a draw for Westmeath would have also been well deserved given the teams were neck and neck through the match.
Down manager Paddy Tally will certainly be heavily encouraged by the resilient never-say-die attitude from his side in the last week and will be pleased by how his experienced players such as McKernan, Mooney, both Johnstone brothers and O’Hare stepped up to the plate when experience was most required for Down.
Down now have a two week break before their next game against away to Longford on 24th of February. This is a break the players will no doubt relish after an exhausting encounter in Newry on a heavy pitch which ultimately saw Down come away the victors in Pairc Esler.