DOWN 5-15 WESTMEATH 3-7 Allianz HL Div 2 final PAUL BRANIFF posted a warning that he is ready to take on the best defenders in the top-flight with a magnificent tally of 3-9 in Down's 14-point demolition job on Tom Ryan's Westmeath, at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, yesterday.
Elated manager John Crossey claimed afterwards that while Braniff was seen as the hero in getting them back to Division One after a 10 years absence, it was centre back Gary Savage who provided the inspiration.
"Gary was floored after 20 seconds, spent four minutes on the ground receiving treatment, and was knocked out twice more afterwards. It was significant that Westmeath scored two goals immediately after his first injury when he was feeling the after-effects. He then settled, as did the defence, and we conceded a solitary score over the next 37 minutes."
Braniff must have wondered what was in store for his side after they had leaked those early goals to John Shaw and Barry Kennedy.
He finally got them off the mark at the end of the first quarter with a point and started a revival that ended with the midlanders having lost all sight of the winning post.
Sandwiched in between was a flurry of scores - and wides - from the northerners, McGourty (two) and Braniff left it 2-1 to 0-4. And in a blistering three minute spell, Paul Braniff, and his namesake Michael, beat keeper Mark Brody to leave it 2-7 to 2-1 at the break.
Westmeath started the second half where they left off in the first, with wides from Ronan Whelan and Barry Kennedy but Down were given a further lift when Garrett Johnson beat Brody with a rising shot.
However, they were given a reminder that all was not over when Barry Kennedy replied at the other end.
Braniff, with three pointed frees and another from play, put more distance between the teams and, at that stage, there was only going to be one winner.
There was a response from Andrew Mitchell and Killian Cosgrave, but it was time to bring down the shutters after a double goal burst from Paul Braniff, on 57 and 59 minutes, and at 5-11 to 3-5 Westmeath were dead and buried.
Down wing back Simon Wilson, who kept the Division 2 top scorer Andrew Mitchell to two points from play, said: "It took us a little while to get used to the ground but once we settled we knew what we were about. Now we can look forward to New York and the championship in a couple of weeks."
SCORERS - Down: P Braniff 3-9 (0-6 f), G Johnson 1-1, M Braniff 1-0, B McGourty 0-3, A Savage, D McCusker 0-1 each. Westmeath: B Kennedy 2-1, J Shaw 1-0, A Mitchell 0-4 (0-2f), V Bateman, K Cosgrave 0-1 each.
DOWN - G Clarke; L Clarke, S Murray, E Dorrian, S Wilson, G Savage, G Clarke; A Savage, G Adair; G McGrattan, P Braniff, B McGroarty, J Convery, G Johnson, M Braniff. Subs: J McGrattan for Convery 40 mins, J Hughes for Clarke 42, D McCusker for McGourty 68, E Trainor for Adare 70.
WESTMEATH - M Brody; D Curley, B Murtagh, P Greville, D Gallagher, C Murtagh, D McCormack; P Williams, O Devine; R Whelan, V Bateman, A Mitchell, D Carty, J Shaw, B Kennedy. Subs: B Connaughton for Williams 40, K Cosgrave for Carty 42, S McDonnell for Devine 43, E Loughlin for Whelan 50.
REF - M Haverty (Galway)