O'Moore Park was a scene of mixed emotions yesterday as visitors Down left with beaming smiles and a place in the semi-finals, while a dejected Laois were relegated back to Division 2 after just one campaign in the top flight.
Laois could have few complaints as they had enough possession and chances to win, but were just not clinical enough. Down gave them a lesson in how to use the ball economically, scoring six of nine chances created in the first half to lead by a goal at the break.
Laois tried hard to get the win they needed to survive, but Down were just too good for them and, led by Benny Coulter, progressed to a semi-final meeting with Cork.
They were quicker out of the blocks, as Arthur McConville, a late replacement for Conor Maginn, pointed a free. Gary Walsh responded for Laois, also from a placed ball, but Down struck for their first goal soon after, as Coulter fisted a long ball back across goal, where Conor Laverty was on hand to palm it to the net.
Undeterred, Laois poured forward in search of scores (they needed to win by three or more to avoid relegation), but were frustrated in front of the posts.
Down limited them to shots from distance, and the hosts struggled. They hit nine wides in the first half, while at the other end, Down took their chances.
McConville and Aidan Carr chipped in with points, and Laois needed Eoin Culliton to make a last-ditch block from Mark Poland to deny the Down captain a goal. Despite that let-off, Laois were still 1-5 to 0-5 in arrears at half-time.
They started the second half strongly, Colm Begley pointing off the outside of his left boot from the left wing, but the game-clinching score for Down arrived soon after.
Conor Laverty and Aidan Carr combined down the right to allow Carr to set up Coulter, who finished from six yards.
Laois, who never looked like scoring a goal all day, were left with a mountain to climb after that, and even though they managed to get the gap back to four points with six minutes left, 2-8 to 0-10, Down hit the last three points of the game.
Man of the Match: Benny Coulter (Down)
SCORERS -- Down: B Coulter 1-1, A McConville 0-3 (2f), C Laverty 1-0, K Quinn, A Carr (f) 0-2 each, C Garvey, A Rogers, M Poland 0-1 each. Laois: G Walsh 0-2 (1f, 1 '45'), C Boyle, B Quigley, R Munnelly, C Begley, P Cahillane, C Kelly (f), D Conway (f), D O'Connor 0-1 each.
DOWN -- B McVeigh 6; D McCartan 6, D Gordon 6, A Branagan 6; N McParland 5, B McArdle 7, C Garvey 7; A Rogers 7, K King 7; K McKernan 7, M Poland 6, A Carr 7; A McConville 8, B Coulter 8, C Laverty 8. Subs: K Quinn 7 for McParland (32), D Turley 6 for Gordon (44, inj), N Brannigan 6 for Branagan (66), M Miskelly for Laverty (71).
LAOIS -- E Culliton 8; C Healy 7, M Timmons 6, K Lillis 5; K Meaney 6, P O'Leary 6, C Boyle 6; B Quigley 6, J O'Loughlin 6; B Sheehan 5, R Munnelly 6, D Strong 5; C Begley 8, P Clancy 6, G Walsh 6. Subs: D O'Connor 7 for Timmons (25, inj), P Cahillane 6 for Walsh (h-t), D Conway 6 for Munnelly (53), C Kelly 6 for Sheehan (60), S Conroy for Clancy (71).
Ref -- S Doyle (Wexford)