Niall Madine's goal fires Down to league summit
Down 1-09 Donegal 0-10: Niall Madine's first-half goal gave Down a deserved victory over Donegal yesterday – and set up a three-way promotion battle.
Madine's goal laid the platform for Down to sink Donegal to their first league defeat of the season and James McCartan's side join the north west outfit and Monaghan at the top on seven points with two games to play.
Madine slotted past Paul Durcan in the 13th minute after full-back Brendan McArdle's lung-bursting surge created the opening.
Down could have been further in front, but were denied an early penalty when Donegal goalkeeper Durcan appeared to haul Conor Laverty down, only for referee Cathal O'Hagan to wave away the protests.
But Madine's goal was the game changer and game winner rolled into one.
"It's important to win your home games and our game plan worked well," said Down selector Niall Moyna.
"Having the breeze in the first half and getting a lead is important against Donegal because they've got to come out and play against you."
Down led 1-6 to 0-5 at the break with Mark Poland and Kevin McKernan both excellent for the home side against off-colour Donegal.
Dermot Molloy hit Tir Chonaill's opening point after 18 minutes.
Even after Martin McElhinney and Leo McLoone brought them back into it early in the second half, they didn't kick on and a barren 24 minutes without a score proved costly for Jim McGuinness's charges, who had 12 wides.
"We're obviously disappointed," said the Donegal manager.
"Any day you kick that many wides and you get beaten by two points you have to be disappointed. That's the bottom line," he said.
"You can't take away from the fact that we had so many chances, from free kicks and from open play.
"We only needed two of them to go over for us to get a draw so that's disappointing," added McGuinness.
Colm McFadden and Neil Gallagher hit late points for the visitors, but Laverty took a black card for the team and a late surge for a goal proved fruitless as Down held on to make it a three-way tie at the top.
McGuinness said: "It'll go down to the wire now."
DOWN: S Harrison; D McCartan, B McArdle, O Costello; R Boyle, A Carr, C Garvey (0-1); P Turley, K McKernan (0-1); C Laverty (0-1), M Poland (0-2), C Maginn (0-1); D O'Hare (0-3, 2f), N Madine (1-0), J Johnston. Subs: R Johnston for J. Johnston (56), B Coulter for Madine (68), P Fitzpatrick for Laverty (black card, 72).
DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, K Lacey; A Thompson, L McLoone (0-1), F McGlynn; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney (0-1); M McHugh, C Toye, O MacNiallais; C McFadden (0-2, 2f), M Murphy (0-3, 1f, 1 '45), D Molloy (0-2). Subs: N Gallagher (0-1) for Kavanagh (45), P McBrearty for Molloy (45), David Walsh for MacNiallais (45), D O'Connor for Toye (60).
Referee: C O'Hagan (Tyrone).