Sheehan points way to win after 'Magic' potion transforms Down
Down 2-24 Roscommon 1-20
They may have entered this contest against a backdrop of acrimony and uncertainty but Down did their talking out on the park by edging past Roscommon in this lively Christy Ring Cup clash at Ballycran.
And just as was the case when the sides met earlier in the season in the league, the influence of Gareth 'Magic' Johnston was to prove profound, as was the immaculate finishing of Paul Sheehan.
Questions surrounding the home team's commitment to the cause may have been raised in the build-up to the contest but Martin Mallon's team showed that they have the trophy very much in their sights.
While Johnston provided the thrust and power which helped the attack to function, Sheehan's sublime finishing saw him amass a stunning 15 points from frees, a number of which were indeed won by the ubiquitous Johnston - and yet he only played for portion of the tie having been introduced from the substitutes' bench with half an hour to go.
Mal Magee sent Down on their way with the game's opening goal in the 16th minute yet the home side remained unconvincing when they led by 1-8 to 0-9 although Magee's tenacity and drive in getting his goal lifted the side.
Subsequent points from Sheehan (free) and Magee opened a two-point gap at 1-8 to 0-9 but Down were unconvincing.
Successive points from John Coyne (2) and Robbie Fallon (2 frees) reflected Roscommon dominance at this stage, but Sheehan converted his sixth free of the opening period to leave the visitors ahead at the break by 1-13 to 1-10.
It was when Roscommon led by 1-16 to 1-11 that Down introduced Johnston and the home side suddenly became rejuvenated.
Eight Sheehan points, a monster score from Conor Woods and a fine point from Magee helped the home side close the game out in some style.
Down joint manager Marty Mallon said: "Roscommon put it up to us for most of the game but overall we were the better team.
"However, we need to keep our feet on the ground."
This win guarantees us two more matches in the competition and that's the most important thing for us. We have had our ups and downs in the last three months. We have a small squad and we are struggling with some injuries so it isn't easy."
"Some of the younger players are struggling to adapt to inter-county hurling so their performances have been inconsistent but we know they have ability and it's up to us to bring it out."
On Johnston's contribution to the team's effort he added: "Look, Magic has been great for us. His knee injury limits his training but he still puts in a shift on match days and there is no doubt his introduction gave us a lift, as well as giving Roscommon something to worry about. But Michael Hughes gave us a good lift as well."
And Mallon, not surprisingly, heaped praise on free-taker Sheehan.
"In the absence of team captain Danny Toner I felt Paul Sheehan stepped up to the mark in style. Fifteen points is a massive contribution by any standards and hopefully this win will give us confidence going forward.
"Obviously there are bigger challenges ahead but given the build-up to this particular match and the environment against which it was played we are just pleased to be taking the positives from it."
He added: "We might have missed some chances including a penalty but we know that we can improve and I believe that the boys now have the incentive to go forward more fully focussed on what they can achieve.
"It's not going to be easy but it's important to get the mind-set right and to have the right level of belief." .
Down: P Sheehan 0-15f; M Magee 1-2; E Sands 1-1; D Hughes 0-1; C O'Prey 0-1; O McManus 0-1; G Johnston 0-1; C Woods 0-1; G Hughes 0-1.
Roscommon: S Curley 0-6 (5f); N Connaughton 1-2; R Fallon 0-5f; J Coyne 0-3; E Flanagan 0-2; T Seale 0-1; H Rooney 0-1.
Down: S Keith; J McManus, S Nicholson, S Ennis; A Bell, C Woods, M Ennis; D Hughes, D McManus; C O'Prey, M Magee, C Mageean; E Sands, P Sheehan, O McManus. Subs: G Johnston for Nicholson; M Hughes for Bell; G Hughes for McManus
Roscommon: N Fallon; P Nolan, P Kellehan, A Moore; M Beirne, P Kelly, T Searle; S Curley, C Dolan; G Fallon, G Keenan, N Connaughton; E Flanagan, J Coyne, R Fallon.
Referee: M Murtagh (Westmeath).