Gilroy: 'Ferocious' Down deserved to win
DOWN rained on Dublin's St Patrick's weekend parade and left the All-Ireland champions' manager Pat Gilroy wondering what had caused the fire and passion which his team had displayed against Armagh the previous Sunday to disappear.
One part of the answer could be found in the intensity and sense of purpose that Down brought into the game and which they maintained right to the end.
Home followers would also point to the relatively tight Pairc Esler pitch in contrast to the wide open spaces of Croke Park, which traditionally favours the Dubs, especially when they get into their free-flowing attacking mode.
And yet, Gilroy was offering no excuses, even though full-forward Eoghan O'Gara had to withdraw before the match with a groin injury that will need a specialist's opinion today.
He rightly referred to the "ferocious" intensity which James McCartan's men displayed and had to concede that the better side won.
"We never got to the intensity of Down in the first half. They gave us a lesson in terms of being ferocious in everything they did," said Gilroy.
"We were at a different level last week and just didn't get up to that level today. I would be very happy with the second half and we responded well.
"But fair play to Down. We could have sneaked a draw at end, but that would have been unfair to Down. Overall they were the better team," added the disappointed Dublin manager.
'Wee James' was very pleased with his team of battlers, particularly when Kevin McManamon's 43rd minute goal brought the Dubs to within two points on a scoreline of 0-10 to 1-5.
"I was happy with our perseverance and that we didn't stop after they got the goal," revealed the Down manager.
"We asked that whenever Dublin would get their 10 or 12 minutes of dominance, are we just going to put the heads down? The boys were determined not to let that happen and it didn't.
"We like to think that when we play football, we're good to watch and hard to beat," said McCartan.
His players certainly matched that assessment in a game that was hard-fought and entertaining, despite being somewhat scrappy, with too many niggly mini-confrontations leading to eight bookings, five for Dublin and three for Down.
Down opened brightly and their hallmark multi-player hand-passing movements brought them enough frees and scores to give them a half-time lead of 0-8 to 0-4.
It would have been more but for some over-playing of their possession game.
However, Aidan Carr's four points from frees -- two from lively Mark Poland and one each from Conor Laverty and Danny Hughes -- kept the home fans in good voice.
Dublin, who hit Armagh with 4-17 last Sunday week, had only a point each by Alan Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley, McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly to show for their first-half efforts.
Connolly was perhaps lucky not to get a red card following an incident with Conor Garvey on the touchline alongside the stand which resulted in howls from the crowd.
Connolly seemed to push rather than punch, but it wasn't clever and he was lucky referee Reilly kept his cool and only awarded a yellow card.
Dublin upped the ante in the second half, but Down's swarming defence and smart counter-attacks prevented the visitors from getting a stranglehold on the pattern of play.
McManamon's sniping angled run from the left half-forward position put him clear to slot the ball past goalie Brendan McVeigh to make it 0-10 to 1-5 eight minutes into the second half.
They badly needed another goal, but sub Barry Cahill squandered a close-range chance in the 53rd minute with the score at 0-13 to 1-6 in Down's favour.
Prior to the match, McCartan had said he would need to "get a couple of men cut out of Mourne granite" to handle the Dubs and, as it transpired, he had a squad of them.
Talisman Benny Coulter came on as a sub after 47 minutes and he scored a point with his first touch.
Man of the Match Aidan Carr scored five points -- four from frees -- and worked his socks off all over the park, exemplifying the attitude and effort of Down on the day.
They kept the Dubs at bay, never letting the champions get closer than two points.
Over the last 13 minutes of furious exchanges, the fact that only five points were scored -- two for Down and three by Dublin -- illustrated the enormity of the effort from the two sets of players.
Stephen Cluxton with a '45', Connolly from a free and Macauley were those Dublin scorers, while Kevin McKernan and Ambrose Rogers nicked the precious points for Down.
Dublin gave Jonny Cooper a debut and he did quite well in a match where his side seemed to be living on scraps, particularly up front, for most of the game.
For Dublin, some homework needs to be done before their next match against Donegal, while Down will have a pep in their step for their upcoming meeting with Armagh.
Man of the Match: A Carr (Down)
SCORERS -- Down: A Carr 0-5 (4f), M Poland, K McKernan, A Rogers 0-2 each, N McParland, B Coulter, C Laverty, D Hughes 0-1 each; Dublin: K McManamon 1-1, D Connolly 0-3 (3f), A Brogan, MD Macauley 0-2 each, E Fennell, S Cluxton (1 '45') 0-1 each.
DOWN -- B McVeigh 6; D McCartan 6, C Garvey 6, A Branigan 6; N McParland 7, D Gordon7 , K McKernan7; A Rogers 7, K King 7; D Hughes 7, M Poland 7, A Carr 8; C Maginn 7, E McCartan 7, C Laverty 7. Subs: G McCartan 6 for Branigan (h-t), B Coulter 6 for E McCartan (47); B McArdle 6 for G McCartan (56); K Duffin 6 for McGinn (61); P Turley for King (70).
DUBLIN -- S Cluxton 6; D Daly 6, R O'Carroll 7, J Cooper 6 ; J McCarthy 6, G Brennan 6, C Dias 6; E Fennell 7, MD Macauley 7; P Brogan 6, K McManamon 7, P Flynn 6; D Connolly 6, B Cullen 7, A Brogan 6. Subs: P McMahon 6 for Dias (h-t); B Cahill 6 for Flynn (47); T Quinn 6 for Brogan (58); R McConnell for Fennell (66); K Nolan for McCarthy (70).
REF -- C Reilly (Meath).