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Down defeated but relegation fight goes on

Down 1-07 Dublin 1-15

By John Campbell

The tentacles of relegation may have tightened their grip on Down after their 1-15 to 1-07 defeat to Dublin, but not to the extent that all is already lost.

A ray of sunlight has infiltrated the gloom, its welcome glow spawning a vital element that has been absent to date - hope.

That this albeit modest upsurge in fortune arrived in the context of an unrelentingly courageous performance against the reigning All-Ireland champions, who have their sights fixed on a fourth successive Division One crown, does even more perhaps to help rekindle Mourne pride.

Manager Eamonn Burns, while not quite beaming from ear to ear as he took stock of a team effort that was underpinned by hard graft yet ultimately fell short, exuded the demeanour of someone who feels that a corner has been turned.

"I thought we had a couple of goal chances in the closing stages and had we taken them this might have changed the result but I was very happy with the performance," asserted Burns.

"We battled very hard right throughout the field and any boys that we brought on played really, really well. Losing our captain Kevin McKernan at an early stage was a big blow. We were happy to go in front in the opening period and if we had pushed on a wee bit it might have helped us to get closer at half-time."

It may have ended in a fifth straight loss but Burns believes his side can still bring the curtain down on their league campaign on an encouraging note.

"We have two big games now against Cork and Mayo and we will take a positive approach and try and win them," he added. "We are a young side with a lot of lads encountering the All-Ireland champions for the first time. We knew it wasn't going to be a quick fix but we're happy with the progress we're making."

That progress was certainly reflected in the early minutes when Down swept into a 1-2 to 0-1 lead, deriving their momentum from Donal O'Hare's out of the blue goal when the ball slipped through the fingers of Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton.

But by half-time Jim Gavin's side had stamped their imprint, Cormac Costello's 18th-minute goal having been embroidered by a battery of points that left them 1-8 to 1-3 ahead.

There was never a hint of a white towel being thrown in by Down, though.

Indeed, at 1-11 to 1-7 with 20 minutes to go there was a suggestion that impressive substitutes Paul Devlin and Henry Brown might work the oracle.

They came close to doing just that, their respective thunderbolts in the 64th and 67th minutes thudding off the woodwork. But the home side were not destined to score again despite a rejuvenated gallery.

Instead, Paddy Andrews and Dean Rock applied extra gloss to Dublin's victory with late points.

For Down, though, hope springs eternal although manager Burns best encapsulates their current situation. He said: "We would like to remain in Division One but you have to win and we haven't been doing that."

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Byrne, M Fitzsimons, J Small; J McCarthy, P McMahon, J Cooper 0-1; B Fenton, S Carthy; P Flynn 0-2, D Connolly, C Kilkenny 0-2; C Costello 1-4 (3f), K McManamon 0-2, D Rock 0-3 (1 '45', 1f). Subs: S B Carthy for Flynn (43, Black card), P Andrews (0-1) for McManamon (46), E Lowndes for S Carthy (46), D Bastick for Fenton (51), T Brady for Costello (56), D Daly for Cooper (65)

Down: M Cunningham; G Collins, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; J Flynn, A Carr, D O'Hanlon 0-1; P Turley, M McKay 0-1; C Maginn, R Mallon, K McKernan; C McGovern, D O'Hare 1-2 (2f), B O'Hagan. Subs: J Murphy 0-2 for McKernan (6, Black card), P Devlin 0-1 for Mallon (47), L Howard for Carr (51), C Harrison for O'Hagan (51), H Brown for McKay (57). Yellow cards: O'Hanlon (7), McKay (32)

Referee: Derek O'Mahony (Tipperary)

Belfast Telegraph

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