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Down are looking up after Dubs are floored

McCartan is now eyeing semi spot

By John Campbell

Down 0-15 Dublin 1-10

Just over a week ago the spectre of relegation loomed over Down. Yesterday, instead of contemplating the drop into Division Two of the National Football League, James McCartan’s side had their sights set on a semi-final place.

If victory over Mayo in Castlebar last Sunday was viewed as little more than a respite from their travails in the competition, then Sunday’s stunning triumph over All-Ireland champions Dublin at Pairc Esler, Newry has suddenly afforded Down enhanced status.

And the two hard-earned points against Pat Gilroy’s side now help to provide a fascinating backdrop to next Saturday’s crucial sixth round clash with neighbours and deadly rivals Armagh.

McCartan’s delight with Sunday’s performance is tempered by what he feels will be a huge challenge from an Orchard county side now ushered closer to the relegation trap-door following Sunday’s reversal against Laois.

He said: “While we are very pleased to have got two points at the expense of the All-Ireland champions, we know that Armagh desperately need points and that they will be up for this game. We maybe ambushed Dublin to a certain extent and while we are happy to take the win it’s nothing more than two points.

“We are not out of the woods yet.”

And he added: “There was always the chance that Dublin could have got another goal and had that happened we would have ended up with nothing.”

Down, sharp and incisive, moved the ball quickly and accurately throughout the first-half, constantly punching holes in a Dublin defence that was forced into conceding a litany of frees.

They paid a stiff penalty in this respect, too, as Aidan Carr served up a master-class in finishing, landing four points from placed balls in the opening 22 minutes which, complemented by points from Conor Laverty and Danny Hughes, sent his side careering into a 0-6 to 0-2 advantage.

Dublin indeed had scarcely left the traps by then, their attack well shackled by an efficient Down defence in which Aidan Brannigan and Dan Gordon formed stumbling blocks.

Down’s lightning counter-thrusts with the in-form Carr at the heart of their attacking strategy disrupted Dublin’s efforts to find any semblance of rhythm.

While Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly registered points for the visitors in the 23rd and 24th minutes, Down’s quicksilver forwards had no intention of taking their foot off the accelerator.

With the match taking on a distinctly more physical edge, referee Cormac Reilly was forced to brandish a series of yellow cards — three from each side were booked even before the break — but Down were not deflected from their adventurous policy.

Their pace and control created the openings for Mark Poland to snap up two further points that left them ahead by 0-8 to 0-4 at the break.

Dublin showed much more organisation and resolve in the second-half and when the rampaging Kevin McManamon lashed in a 42nd minute goal Down’s lead had been trimmed to two points (0-10 to 1-5).

But Ambrose Rogers, who has rediscovered his best form at midfield, Niall McParland and Benny Coulter rifled over points that took them into the clear again and although the Dubs remained in contention with points from Stephen Cluxton (45), Diarmuid Connolly (two frees) and the busy Michael Daragh Macauley, the home side kept their shape and their nerve to chisel out a victory that will lend huge impetus to the remainder of their league campaign.

Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, C Garvey, A Brannigan; N McParland (0-1), D Gordon, K McKernan (0-2); A Rogers (0-2), K King; D Hughes (0-1), M Poland (0-2), A Carr (0-5, 0-4 frees); C Maginn, E McCartan, C Laverty (0-1). Subs: G McCartan for Brannigan (half-time), B Coulter (0-1) for E McCartan (45 mins), B McArdle for G McCartan (55 mins), K Duffin for Maginn (61), P Turley for King (71). Yellow cards: McKernan (17 mins), Brannigan (32), Laverty (35)

Dublin: S Cluxton (0-1, ‘45’); D Daly, R O’Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, C Dias; E Fennell (0-1), M D Macauley (0-2); P Brogan, K McManamon (1-1), P Flynn; D Connolly (0-3), B Cullen, A Brogan (0-2). Subs: P McMahon for Dias (half-time), B Cahill for Flynn (46), D Byrne for P Brogan (57), R McConnell for Fennell (65), K Nolan for McCarthy (61). Yellow cards: Daly (16), P Brogan (32), Connolly (33), Macauley (49), P Brogan (56)

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).

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