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Sublime Coulter drags Down across line

Benny Coulter displayed the sort of form yesterday at Pairc Esler in Newry which Down will need if they are to go all the way to the All-Ireland final again this year but too many of his colleagues were not up to that standard yesterday.

Down, fortunate to get past Clare in the last round, again had to dig deep as Leitrim, without a single win since the qualifiers were introduced, made them battle all the way.

In fairness, the Down response after Leitrim took a shock lead after the restart with a goal, was superb, with Coulter, who finished with 0-7 from play, leading the way.

Tougher opposition might have put Down to the sword but Leitrim just did not have the firepower to create such a shock and James McCartan's men took control in the second-half to advance.

An expertly taken penalty by Marty Clarke helped Down to lead by 1-5 to 0-6 at the break, even though they had played against the strong wind.

Clarke finished low into the bottom-right corner after Leitrim full-back John McKeon was penalised for a foot block as Conor Laverty tried to complete a good move which included taking a return pass from Clarke.

That goal after 15 minutes left Leitrim with a mountain to climb as Down opened up a 1-3 to 0-1 lead. But Leitrim, who played seven men in defence, responded admirably and took the game to the All-Ireland finalists. Mickey Moran's side hit back with three points in a row with Adrian Croal getting the first of them from the left-wing. They built on that as Robert Lowe kicked a superb point from the right and Emlyn Mulligan pointed a free to leave it 1-3 to 0-4 after 19 minutes.

Mark Poland steadied the home nerves with a point from the right but it was Coulter who was their biggest threat up front and he got his third point of the half when he fisted over five minutes from the break after rounding Leitrim full-back John McKeon.

Coulter hit two excellent scores in the early stages after Laverty had cancelled the opening score of the game from Leitrim corner-forward Brian McDonald.

A massive downpour midway through the half created a difficult surface for two sides who engaged far too much in the short handpassing game.

Leitrim finished the half strongly and got a good dividend from finally delivering the ball long. Mulligan pointed another free and team captain James Glancy, who won the toss and played with the wind, hit a fine effort to leave them trailing by 1-5 to 0-6 at half-time.

A goal from Adrian Croal 90 seconds after the restart put Leitrim in front but Coulter kept his nerve and led the response as Down hit 0-8 without reply to kill off the Leitrim challenge.

A point from sub Peter Fitzpatrick put Down 1-13 to 1-6 in front after 54 minutes before Mulligan finally lifted the siege with a pointed free for Leitrim but a comeback was never on the cards as Down eased their way into the next round.

Scorers -- Down: B Coulter 0-7, M Clarke 1-2 (1-0 pen, 1 '45), M Poland (1f), C Laverty 0-2 each, L Doyle, K McKernan, P Fitzpatrick 0-1 each. Leitrim: A Croal 1-1, E Mulligan 0-3 (3f), R Lowe, B McDonald, J Glancy, C Kelly 0-1 each.

Down: B McVeigh; B McArdle, K McKernan, A Branagan; D Rooney, K Duffin, C Garvey; D Gordon, K King; L Doyle, M Clarke, B Coulter; M Poland, C Laverty, P McComiskey. Subs: C Maginn for McComiskey (40), P Fitzpatrick for Duffin (42), C Mooney for Doyle (58), A Carr for Coulter, (62), D Raferty for Garvey (65).

Leitrim: C McCrann; P Maguire, J McKeon, D Reynolds; B Prior, G Reynolds, D Beck; D Lowe, D Sweeney; R Lowe, B McDonald, C Clarke; E Mulligan, J Glancy, A Croal. Subs: C Kelly for McDonald (44), C Sheridan for R Lowe (52), B McWeeney for G Reynolds, (58), F Clancy for Clarke (65).

Referee: M Sludden (Tyrone).

Sunday Indo Sport