A very young Down side produced some brilliant hurling, especially in the first half, to overcome Carlow in Portaferry yesterday.
Without six of their regular line- up, Down made light of their handicap with the young players rising to the occasion and at the finish were deserved winners. They dominated the first half, scored two important goals, and in the second period their defence was simply magnificent.
Andy Savage and Eoin Clarke dominated midfield in the opening half for Down, while the attack, led by Gareth Johnson, Aaron O'Prey and Paul Keith, picked off some brilliant scores. And at the back, Conor Woods was the star man and along with Fintan Conway and Sean Ennis, they kept the Carlow attack at bay.
Down raced into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after 20 minutes with their goal coming from Aaron O'Prey, while Gareth Johnson pointed two frees. Eoin Nolan was the Carlow scorer.
Down's second goal after 25 minutes came from an Eoin Clarke sideline cut which went straight to the net and when Clarke and Paul Keith added points, Down led by 2-6 to 0-4 at half-time.
Carlow were at their best after the interval as Paudie Kehoe, substitute Andrew Gaule, Eoin Nolan and Dwayne Kavanagh reduced Down's lead to six points.
Points were exchanged three times as Down battled to retain their two-goal advantage.
In a pulsating finish, Gareth Johnson and Paudie Kehoe twice exchanged points and although the Leinster men scored the final three points, the all-important goal they needed to draw the game eluded them as the Down defended effectively.
SCORERS -- Down: E Clarke 1-2 (1-0 s/l, 1f, 1 '65'), G Johnson 0-5 (4f), A O'Prey 1-1, P Keith, C Mageean, J Coyle 0-1 each. Carlow: D Kavanagh 0-4 (3f, 0-1 '65), E Nolan, P Kehoe (2f), A Gaule 0-3 each, C Doyle 0-1 (1f).
Down -- G Clarke; M Hughes, F Conway, S Ennis; B Toner, C Woods, M Ennis; A Savage, E Clarke; J Coyle, S Clarke, A O'Prey; D Toner, G Johnson, P Keith. Subs: C Mageean for D Toner; K McGarry for B Toner (50), S Nicholson for S Clarke (55), A Clarke for P Keith (65).
Carlow -- K Kehoe; A Corcoran, J Rogers, B Doyle; E Coady, D Kavanagh, R Coady; J Kavanagh, E Nolan; M Brennan, H P O'Byrne, C Doyle; R Dunbar, E Byrne, P Kehoe. Subs: A Gaule for H P O'Byrne (29), D Shaw for J Rogers (32).
REF -- R Mathews (Antrim).