Down marched into the Ulster Football final with victory over Fermanagh in a see-saw match at Clones. Fermanagh looked to be down and out after a first half during which they were second best for the most part, however a stirring second-half comeback gave them real hope before a dramatic late collapse let Down take victory.
After a tentative opening period, Raymond Gallagher opened the scoring for Fermanagh on eight minutes when he knocked over a free-kick from 22 yards out. Gallagher then doubled his side's lead from another free two minutes later to give Fermanagh the start they were looking for.
However, Down soon found their stride and points from Gregory McCartan, McCrickard and Coulter put them in front. The Mourne County then stretched their lead when McCartan was fouled in the box leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot. McCartan stepped forward to take the spot-kick himself and although Ronan Gallagher managed to get a touch, he was unable to stop it from finding the back of the net.
Down were in control at this stage, although their indiscipline at the back meant that Fermanagh were still getting chances. Brian Burns was booked for holding and Raymond Gallagher knocked over the resulting free to reduce the deficit to five points. Burn was lucky to stay on the pitch following a high challenge a minute later, but as it stood, Down took a 1-07 0-06 lead into the break.
Fermanagh boss Dominic Corrigan will have had some harsh words to say at half-time, but they appeared to have the desired effect as his side came out after the re-start like a different team. Quick-fire points from McCabe and McGuire brought Fermanagh to within two points of Down, and when Burns was shown his second yellow card for pulling back McGuire, the Lakeland County were in the ascendancy.
Raymond Gallagher's point from close range levelled the scores before Bradley's first point of the game put his side in front. With the extra-man advantage and Down losing their shape, Fermanagh should have pushed on and taken the game to their opponents, but instead they seemed content to sit back and that handed Down the chance to regroup and it was one they took with both hands.
Gregory McCartan's converted free-kick drew his side level, before the introduction of James McCartan turned the game on it's head. With what was almost his first touch of the game, the substitute latched onto a loose ball in the Fermanagh box, and blasted it into the roof of the net to put his side back in front.
Things went from bad to worse for Fermanagh who then had Ryan McCloskey dismissed after he picked up his second yellow car for an off the ball incident. Down went into cruise control and a added to their lead before the final whistle went, signalling their passage to the Ulster final. Fermanagh, meanwhile will now have to face Cavan in the qualifiers next week.
Filed by Rob Wright