Annaclone four help Down to Croker

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Four Annaclone girls helped Down to reach their first All-Ireland final since 2005 with a tense 1-16 to 2-10 extra-time victory over plucky Leitrim on Sunday.

Eliza Downey, Aileen Pyers, Grainne Kelly and Mairead Grant had to hold their nerve as Down threatened to throw away what had looked a certain victory at half-time.

“We had build up a good lead but then threw it away in the second half,” explained Downey.

“They came back to draw and send it to extra-time. We won by three points but we should have won earlier. People were saying we were the better team but we just can’t throw away leads like that.

“I must say I got a bit emotional at the final whistle. It had all been pent up after we threw the lead away. It was such a release because until then, you don’t want to believe you’re going to get the win that you want so much.

“It was a relief when the whistle was blown. We were dead on our feet after playing 80 minutes of football.”

The second half collapse has become a bit of a theme for the county side as their quarter-final win over Sligo wasn’t without its stresses either. Downey knows it’s a trait they can’t repeat at Croke Park against either Fermanagh or Roscommon on Sunday 28 September.

“We built up a great 10 point lead in the first half against Sligo but then we imploded in the second half,” she said. “We also got three sin bins but managed to win by a point in the end. My nerves aren’t going to last by the time this is over.

“It’s definitely be something we need to address. We have four weeks to work on that for the final now. It’s an issue that we’re going to iron out. Other teams are going to see that now but it’s something that we want to completely eradicate. We can’t invite teams to come back at us.”

Downey, of course, also plays rugby for Ulster and she’s hoping her team-mates will swell the crowd for her first ever outing at Croke Park.

“The Ulster girls and girls from my club Hook have said they’ll be the first at Croke Park at the final,” she said.

“This year, I’ve had to give everything to Down but the reaction of the Ulster and club management has been brilliant.

“Ladies football is a sport that everybody seems willing to get behind. TG4 televise from the quarter-finals on but we’re really trying to encourage everyone to attend games. That’s the main thing. There seem to be so many tune in to watch on TV but the push is on for people to get out and support their county and their girls.”