Down picked up their first win in Division 3 of the Allianz Football League with an resilient two point home win over fellow Ulster rivals Derry.
Both sides drew last week and the pressure was felt in the two camps. Down manager Paddy Tally has his free-taker Donal O'Hare to thank for the valuable two league points. The Burren marksman was steely in his accuracy all evening.
In contrast, having lost both McKenna Cup games in January, Derry manager Rory Gallagher is still searching for a maiden victory with his new side.
Shane McGuigan showed all his familiarity with Newry when landing the opening point of the game. The full forward’s swashbuckling display for the Slaughtneil hurlers against Ballyhale in early January told, as he shot Derry into a 3-1 lead after ten minutes.
The ratio of the scoring then settled down as both sides realigned their defensive shape. Down’s Owen McCabe pointed a booming effort from distance but with the middle third packed, the attacking efforts of both sides began to stagnate.
Derry goalkeeper Odhran Lynch was gaining massive distance on his kick outs. As a result they were putting the visitors on the front foot. Derry built on this pressure and McGuigan added to his tally with two free’s along with an Alex Doherty effort to give Rory Gallagher’s men a commanding three point lead.
Down then put together the best move of the half to split the Derry rearguard. Another Kilcoo player Paul Devlin punting a terrific pass inside for Cory Quinn to profit on the loop.
O’Hare narrowed the advantage with three first half frees, but Derry deservedly went in 0-08 to 0-07 ahead at the turn.
McGuigan continued where he left off after the break with a free but Down grew into the game.
Midfielder Conor Poland joined the attack with a late run to find the range before O’Hare had the sides level.
Derry’s movement was causing Paddy Tally’s home side trouble all evening and McGuigan was the beginning to open up. Sandwiching O’Hare again, McGuigan fired over two points from play, his second was a possible goal chance. One they would later rue.
Down, growing frustrated with Derry’s composure, saw Poland black carded. However with ten minutes remaining and at a numerical disadvantage, they responded in defiant fashion.
Substitute Daniel Guinness ignited the hosts to score four of the last five points on offer. O’Hare would have the final say with his sixth free at the finish to exude a collective sigh relief all around Newry.
Down: Rory Burns; Darren O’Hagan, Brendan McArdle, Ryan McAleenan;Shane Annett, Kevin McKernan, Ger Collins; Johnny Flynn, Conor Poland (0-01); Barry O’Hagan (0-02, 0-01m), Paul Devlin, Owen McCabe (0-01); Jerome Johnston (0-02, 0-01m), Cory Quinn (0-01), Donal O’Hare (0-06, 0-06f).
Subs used: Liam Kerr for Devlin (43), Pat Havern for Quinn (48), Peter Fegan for McAleenan (51), Daniel Guinness (0-01) for Collins (55), Sean Dornan for (63), Sean Dornan for Johnston (70+2)
Derry: Odhran Lynch; Liam McGoldrick, Brendan Rogers, Conor McCluskey; Padraig McGrogan, Niall Keenan, Shay Downey (0-01); Chrissy McKaigue (0-01), Emmett Bradley; Ciaran McFaul, Padraig Cassidy, Danny Tallon; Benny Heron (0-01), Shane McGuigan (0-07, 0-04f), Alex Doherty (0-01)
Subs Used: Niall Toner for Heron (50) Ryan Bell for A Doherty (55), Conor Doherty for McCluskey (57), Christopher Bradley (0-01) for Keenan (67), Gavin O’Neill for Downey (70+1)
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)