Rogers flattens Sligo challenge
DOWN'S greater strength, and their ability to find the space to take their chances, proved too much for Sligo as the Ulstermen emerged 3-20 to 0-10 winners in last night's qualifier in ideal conditions at Kingspan Breffni Park before an attendance of 8,617.
The Connacht side were probably still suffering withdrawal symptoms after their heartbreaking narrow loss to Roscommon in last Sunday's provincial final, but their day was effectively done just after half-time when a quick-fire 1-1 from midfielder Ambrose Rogers opened up a 12-point gap.
Down now go into tonight's quarter-final draw and will feel reasonably confident as they won't have to face Tyrone, the one team to beat them so far in this year's championship.
Down had three changes from the team that narrowly beat Offaly in their round 3 qualifier, with Dan McCartan, Kevin McKernan and Danny Hughes replacing Darren O'Hagan, James Colgan and Aidan Carr. Sligo had four changes from the team that started the Connacht final, with Brian Kennedy, Eugene Mullen, Sean Davey and Stephen Coen replacing Brendan Phillips, Tony Taylor, Stephen Gilmartin and Colm McGee.
It took a while for Sligo's new midfield partnership of Mullen and Sean Davey to get to grips with Down's Rogers and Kalum King, and by that time the Mourne side were three points ahead. With some help from Eamonn O'Hara, Sligo came more into the game, but some erratic foot-passes let Down off the hook.
In contrast, Down tended to punish Sligo whenever they made a mistake. Intercepted passes were generally moved quickly into a scoring position and the Clarke brothers, John and Martin, and Danny Hughes and Mark Poland exacted retribution.
Sligo closed the gap to two points, 0-5 to 0-3, after 17 minutes with a David Kelly point, but they then endured a barren 15-minute spell, during which Martin Clarke scored three points and John Clarke punched in a goal from a Benny Coulter cross. Sligo appealed that Clarke was in the square before the ball --and he certainly appeared to be -- but referee Maurice Deegan waved their protests aside.
It was an uphill battle for Sligo after that, but Kelly and Mark Breheny (free) pointed before half-time to give them something to fight for at 1-10 to 0-6. However, the opening five minutes of the second half effectively ended Sligo's challenge as Down ran in 1-2 without reply to stretch their lead to 12 points.
Kevin McKernan came from defence to score the first point and then midfielder Rogers added a quick-fire 1-1 as Sligo became more and more disjointed throughout the field.
Ronan Murtagh then replaced Coulter and punched over three points in quick succession, later adding 1-2 to finish Down's top scorer.
The throw-in to the game was delayed 10 minutes to accommodate Sligo supporters who were delayed by traffic jams in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Scorers -- Down: R Murtagh 1-5, M Clarke 0-4 (2f, 1 '45), J Clarke, A Rogers 1-1 each, D Hughes 0-3, M Poland 0-2 (2f), P McComiskey, K McKernan, C Garvey, P Fitzpatrick 0-1 each; Sligo: A Marren 0-3 (3f), D Kelly, S Coen, C McGee 0-2 each, M Breheny 0-1 (f)
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty; D Rooney, K McKernan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Poland, P McComiskey; B Coulter, J Clarke, M Clarke. Subs: R Murtagh for Coulter (44); D O'Hagan for Rafferty (55); P Fitzpatrick for King (56); R Sexton for McComiskey (60); J Brown for M Clarke (60)
Sligo: P Greene; C Harrison, N McGuire, R Donovan; K Cawley, B Kennedy, J Davey; E Mullen, S Davey; A Costello, M Breheny, E O'Hara; S Coen, A Marren, D Kelly. Subs: P McGovern for J Davey (16); S Gilmartin for S Davey (39); K Sweeney for Costello (43); C McGee for Breheny (45); F Quinn for O'Hara (54)
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)