Ardsmen secure Croker final
Published 03/06/2013 | 04:20
Down 0-23 Meath 1-10: Down's hurlers are back in the Christy Ring Cup final for the first time since 2009 after seeing off Meath by 10 points at Ballycran on Saturday.
The 0-23 to 1-10 replay victory sets up a Croke Park decider against 2011 champions Kerry this Saturday.
Down have yet to win the second tier championship, but have suffered two final defeats, the first against Westmeath in 2005, and the second four years ago against Carlow.
Having led for most of last week's drawn game, Down weren't about to let this one slip on home soil and, despite nine first half wides, led by 0-12 to 1-6 at the break.
As in the drawn game, Paul Braniff was Down's scorer-in-chief, finishing the game with 0-8, all but one coming from the dead ball. Paul Sheehan contributed three excellent points, with Kevin McGarry, Donal Hughes and Danny Toner also on target.
A Mark O'Sullivan goal edged the visitors ahead early on, but a super Ciaran Coulter score levelled matters midway through the half. Meath's drawn game hero Stephen Clynch was being kept fairly quiet, but added back to back scores to edge the Royals back ahead. However four of the final five scores of the half belonged to Down who took a three-point lead into the second half.
Eoin Marsh cut the gap after the restart but six unanswered scores sealed the deal for Down, with Gareth Johnston adding to the list of Down scorers as Ger Monan's men took a 0-19 to 1-7 lead into the final quarter.
Down goalkeeper Stephen Keith denied O'Sullivan of his second goal before Clynch added Meath's first score in 13 minutes, but the Ardsmen already had one foot in the final by the time Cormac Reilly and Sean Heavey saw red for two bookable offences late in the second half. Down's Paudie Flynn also saw red.
Down now aim to be the first Ulster side to lift the Ring Cup since Antrim in 2006.