Clarke and Coulter shine as Down reach final
DOWN have reached the promised land after a thrilling and nail-biting All-Ireland Semi Final.
In an incredible game Benny Coulter put the Mournemen on their way with a disputed goal on 13 minutes and right at the death, after Kildare had closed the lead to three points, John Doyle’s free came crashing off the bar in stoppage time.
Local man James McCartan will now lead his team out in the decider at Croke Park, the first time they have been in the final since 1996, against Cork on Sunday, September 19.
As expected Down went into the tie missing captain Ambrose Rodgers, who had been ruled out earlier in the week.
But Kildare suffered their own injury problem when Dermot Earley was unable to take to the field. Hugh Lynch took his place in midfield, wearing the number 17 shirt.
Lynch and Padraig O'Neill hit wides for the Lilywhites inside the opening two minutes but Eamonn Callaghan fired over an excellent opening point in the third minute.
Marty Clarke missed a Down free before the first controversial moment of the game, Alan Smith appearing to increase Kildare’s lead six minutes but the umpires waved the shot wide.
James Kavanagh collected a high delivery to pop over the Leinster county’s second point on eight minutes. Within 60 seconds, centre back Kevin McKernan opened Down's account. Game on.
John Doyle’s gave Kildare a third point before the next controversial part of the game. Down went ahead when Benny Coulter looked to be inside the small square as a high ball arrived, he rose highest to flick to the net. The goal was given.
This seemed to kickstart Down’s performance and they moved further ahead when McKernan stole forward to knock over his second superb score from play.
Mark Poland punished some indisciplined Kildare tackling with a beautiful pointed free from the hands.
Morgan O'Flaherty pointed from an excellent Daryl Flynn pass, after Fitzpatrick had struck a Down wide. When Dan McCartan was penalised for putting pressure on Kavanagh, Doyle reduced the gap further with a calmly-converted free from the deck.
Paul McComiskey hit another Down wide and Kavanagh pulled a free wide. But Doyle levelled the scores with an exceptional point from play.
Brian Flanagan's tackle on Martin Clarke presented Poland with another chance from a free and the Down No.11 made no mistake. Danny Hughes followed up with an immediate point from play and it was 1-5 to 0-6 after 26 minutes, with both sides registering five wides to date.
Doyle won and converted a free on 27 minutes but Marty Clarke arrowed over a super point with his left boot in the 28th minute after Kildare were caught in possession. McComiskey was content to fist a point when he had a sniff of goal on the half-hour mark and that score left the Mourne men three points ahead.
Coulter hit a wide when he looked set to score. Marty Clarke's next effort dropped weakly into Shane McCormack's arms but Danny Hughes clipped a nice point over.
In the first added minute, Coulter traded passes with Fitzpatrick and drilled over a point to give his side a five-point advantage at the interval.
Coulter then won a free from McGrillen, which was moved in front of the posts for dissent. Martin Clarke made no mistake.
Emmet Bolton exploited some slack Down play out of defence to claim Kildare's first point of the half.
Kildare were bang out of luck in the 43rd minute when Callaghan drilled a shot off the Down post when he looked certain to bag a goal. To rub salt in the wound, O'Flaherty missed from the rebound when he should have pointed.
But Doyle brought it back to a four-point game with a beautifully-converted free from the ground on 44 minutes, 0-9 to 1-10.
Poland popped the ball over the bar from his hands with another free on 48 minutes - the centre forward's third score.
Substitute Karl Ennis ignored the jeering of the Down supporters to clip a free from the hands over the bar: 0-10 to 1-11 with 52 minutes elapsed.
Fifteen minutes from the end, it was back to a five-point game when Marty Clarke dropped a free over the bar. Substitute Conor Maginn followed up with an instant point, his high kick dropping on the crossbar and over.
Down were now playing with a swagger and Fitzpatrick got on the end of another sublime Marty Clarke pass to pop the ball over when he could - and perhaps should - have gone for goal.
Within seconds, Callaghan rifled the ball to the Down net to leave four points between the teams with little over twelve minutes remaining. In the 59th minute, Coulter claimed another fantastic score from play, giving his team a five-point cushion.
Hugh Lynch sliced over an exceptional Kildare point off the outside of the right foot from the right wing as Kildare kept going, and there were four points in it with nine minutes remaining. Down squandered a great point-scoring opportunity before Lynch followed up with another quality score from 50 yards out, again cutting across the ball expertly.
Ronan Murtagh announced his arrival from off the bench with a point five minutes from the end but Kildare responded with a terrific Doyle pointed free from off the ground.
Sub David Lyons struck a shot high between the posts in the first of three additional minutes and Down were awarded a free, which Marty Clarke sent wide of the target.
There was incredible drama as Kildare surged forward in search of a last-gasp winning goal and the Lilywhites won a free in the fifth added minute. Referee Pat McEneaney instructed them that it would be the last kick of the game and - cruelly - with the entire Down team spread out across the goal line, Robert Kelly boomed a thumping kick off the crossbar via the fingertips of a Down defender.
Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Dan Gordon, Damien Rafferty; Declan Rooney, Kevin McKernan (0-2), Conor Garvey; Peter Fitzpatrick (0-1), Kalum King; Daniel Hughes (0-2), Mark Poland (0-3), Paul McComiskey (0-1); Benny Coulter (1-2), John Clarke, Martin Clarke (0-3). Subs: Aidan Brannigan, Conor Maginn (0-1), Ronan Murtagh (0-1), James Colgan.
Kildare: Shane McCormack; Peter Kelly, Hugh McGrillan, Andrew MacLochlainn; Morgan O'Flaherty (0-1), Emmet Bolton (0-1), Brian Flanagan; Daryl Flynn, Hugh Lynch (0-2); James Kavanagh (0-1), Padraig O'Neill, Johnny Doyle (0-6); Eoghan O'Flaherty, Alan Smith, Eamonn Callaghan (1-1). Subs: Ronan Sweeney, Karl Ennis (0-1), David Lyons (0-1), Robert Kelly, Tomas O'Connor.