National Football League: Down up again thanks to classy Clarke
A penalty from Martin Clarke midway through the second-half blew away the clouds of apprehension at Pairc Esler as Down ran out eight point winners over relegation threatened Monaghan on Saturday night.
Two teams, who lost in very different circumstances last time out, faced each other from very different perspectives in a game that was vital for both.
Monaghan manager Eamon McEnaney would have had a lot to be pleased about in the performance of his team against Dublin last week losing by a single point when they really should have come away with at least a point.
On the same night Down lost heavily to Cork in a repeat of last years All-Ireland final.
Down manager James McCartan made four changes to his starting 15 and received a boost just before throw-in when Benny Coulter — who missed the trip to Cork — was pronounced fit to play and it was Coulter who was fouled for the all important penalty.
Down made a lively start and within 26 seconds Danny Hughes opened the scoring with a point from play and after three minutes Mark Poland doubled the Down scoring.
Paul Finlay opened the Monaghan account with a point from a free after six minutes, but Down picked off points from Declan Rooney, Clarke and Paul McComiskey to open a 0-05 to 0-02 lead.
At times, however, Down’s normally impressive short passing game was ineffective.
It took three further points from Finlay free-kicks to keep Monaghan in touch and after 20 minutes it was a one point game.
Down had their best spell of the half kicking four points from play from the20th to the 25th minutes, but much of their good work was undone by their tendency to concede free-kicks and the visitors finished the half impressively with points from play from Finlay and Conor McManus to make it 0-08 to 0-06.
Down made a lightning start to the second-half, Conor Maginn stretching their lead with a point from play after 30 seconds followed by a score from McComiskey.
Finlay kicked a long range point but Down responded with like scores from Coulter and Poland.
The breakthrough for Down came 18 minutes into the second-half when Coulter was pulled down by Vinny Corey and Clarke slotted home the penalty. As Down stepped up the pace points in quick succession from Clarke and McComiskey opened an eight point gap between the teams.
Substitutes Aiden Carr and Conor Gallegan got their names on the score sheet as Down ran out winners with eight points to spare thus ensuring First Division football next season.
Down: Alder, McCartan, Gordon, McArdle, Garvey, McKernan, Rooney (0-2) , Fitzpatrick, King, Hughes (0-2), Poland (0-2), Maginn (0-1), Laverty, McComiskey (0-3), Murtagh, Clarke (1-04 3f 1P). Subs: Doran for Garvey, Murtagh for Poland, Sexton for Maginn, Carr (0-1) for Coulter (0-1), McCartan for McArdle.
Monaghan: Keogh, Duffy, Corey, Walsh, MacAdam, Mone, Hughes, Clerkin, Lennon, McGuiness, Downey, Turley, Freeman, Finlay (0-8, 5f), McManus (0-2), Subs: McKenna for O Lennon (32). Duffy for McGuiness, O’Brien for Freeman, Smyth for Downey. Galligan (0-1) for D Hughes
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).