WICKLOW deservedly retained their Division 2A status as Down hurling suffered another hammer blow in this relegation play-off in Trim yesterday.
The Garden County had been showing the better form throughout the league campaign with three draws, including one against the Mourne men, prior to this showdown. And they made that form tell in emphatic fashion yesterday.
They were never headed once impressive midfielder Eamonn Kearns found the net from a Wayne O'Gorman pass on 10 minutes and established a seven-point advantage at one stage in the opening half.
At half-time, they enjoyed a 1-10 to 0-8 lead.
Down, for whom Paul Braniff was in outstanding form, registered the opening two points of the second half to revive their hopes.
But their joy was short-lived as they were soon conceding a second goal when Jonathan O'Neill converted a penalty on 43 minutes.
With captain Enan Glynn, O'Gorman and O'Neill in top form for Wicklow, the Leinster side led 2-13 to 0-12 midway through the second half.
Braniff almost single-handedly kept Down in contention and ended with a personal tally of 0-14, 0-10 of which came from placed balls -- the losers only notched a single score from play throughout the second half.
The Portaferry man had a goal attempt deflected over for a point in the closing stages as Down produced a late rally.
They outscored their opponents five points to one in the final quarter but the damage was done much earlier and they were unable to conjure a match-saving goal which would have been unfair on Wicklow.
Man of the Match: Paul Braniff (Down)
SCORERS -- Wicklow: J O'Neill (1-0 pen, 1f), E Kearns 1-1 each, W Gorman, E Glynn 0-3 each, A O'Brien, R Keddy 0-2 each, B Cuddihy, C Moorehouse 0-1 each. Down: P Braniff 0-14 (10f), M Cunningham (sl), D Toner, A O'Prey 0-1 each.
WICKLOW -- J Murphy 7; Jim Connors 6, G Keogh 7, B Cuddihy 7; J Henderson 7, S Kelly 7, G Bermingham 7; E Kearns 8, R Keddy 7; John Connors 6, W O'Gorman 7, E Dunne 6; E Glynn 8, J O'Neill 8, A O'Brien 7. Subs: Christy Moorehouse 7 for John Connors (26), E O'Neill 6 for Jim Connors (49), L Kennedy for Dunne (66).
DOWN -- S Keith 7; M Hughes 6, S Ennis 7, J Smyth 6; F Conway 7, C Woods 7, M Ennis 7; E Clarke 6, M Cunningham 7; P Sheehan 6, P Braniff 9, A O'Prey 7; D Toner 6, P Keith 6, C Mageean 6. Subs: A Savage 6 for Clarke (50), D Hughes 6 for Sheehan (50), M Turley 5 for P Keith (57), D Hobbs for Toner (67).
REF -- F Smith (Meath).