DOWN booked their place in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals with a hard-fought five-point victory against Tipperary in this afternoon’s Round 4 qualifier at Cusack Park, Mullingar.
Just six days after losing the Ulster SFC final to Donegal, Down bounced back to book their place in the last eight of the All-Ireland series.
In the process, James McCartan’s team became the first since Dublin in 2001 to win a qualifier less than a week after losing a provincial decider.
They had to dig it out too as Tipperary came from seven points down in the second half to trail by just three in the closing stages. But late scores from Mark Poland and Ambrose Rodgers settled Down’s nerves as the pre-match favourites justified that status.
Tipperary had come to the midlands full of confidence on the back of three successive qualifier victories.
But Division 1 opposition in the form of Down was always going to be a difficult test for the Premier County.
And so it proved as Down came racing out of the blocks to lead by 0-5 to 0-0 in front of 3,620 spectators.
Tipp missed an early goal chance when Alan Maloney shot straight at Brendan McVeigh and registered their first score in the 24th minute, when Michael Quinlivan popped over a free.
But this was an afternoon when Down’s big players stood up to be counted. Rodgers was brilliant at midfield and kicked four points, a tally equalled by Poland.
And at corner forward, the evergreen Benny Coulter finished a personal haul of 1-2. It was Coulter’s goal in the fifth minute of first half stoppage time that established a 1-6 to 0-4 interval lead for Down.
Tipp had looked in a good position as they had wind advantage for the second half on a changeable afternoon weather-wise.
But Coulter’s goal was real sucker punch for Tipp and would ultimately prove so crucial in the final analysis.
Leading by 1-11 to 0-7 in the second half, Down looked well on course for victory but Tipp hit back with a run of four unanswered points – including three from Maloney. But just when they were needed most, Poland and Rodgers stepped forward with the crucial points to seal the deal.
DOWN: B McVeigh; N McParland, D Gordon (0-1), D O’Hagan; A Carr, C Garvey, B McArdle (0-1); A Rogers (0-4, 1f), K King; C Maginn, M Poland (0-4, 1f), K Duffin (0-1f); E McCartan, B Coulter (1-2), C Laverty. Subs: K McKernan for Carr (48), L Doyle for McParland (52), D O’Hare for McCartan (55), A Brannigan for Duffin (60)
TIPPERARY: P Fitzgerald; A Morrissey, P Codd, C McDonald; A Campbell, R Kiely, B Fox (0-1); G Hannigan, H Coghlan; R Ryan, P Austin (0-2), D Leahy; A Maloney (0-3, 2f), P Acheson (0-1), M Quinlivan (0-3, 2f). Subs: B O’Brien for Ryan (h.t.), B Mulvihill (0-1) for Austin (54), R Costigan for Hannigan (55), M Dunne for Coghlan (61), J O’Callaghan for Kiely (62). Referee: C Reilly (Meath).