By Gareth McCullough
Down kept their promotion bid very much on track with a comfortable win over a lacklustre Offaly at O'Connor Park.
Paddy Tally’s side held a nine-point lead at the break, and the hosts were only able to reduce that by one come the final whistle as the visitors remained in total control throughout.
After a Barry O'Hagan free for Down was cancelled out by Anton Sullivan at the opposite end in the fifth minute, the visitors went on to make excellent use of the strong wind at their backs to storm into a huge lead at the break.
James Guinness and Ceilum Doherty put the visitors 0-03 to 0-01 in front before Kevin McKernan was sent to the sin-bin following a bodycheck on Michael Brazil on 13 minutes.
However, rather than capitalise on their man advantage for the following 10 minutes, the hosts allowed Down to control possession, with two O’Hagan points, one from a free, extending their lead to four.
A third O’Hagan free of the half, plus a second from play by Guinness, made it 0-07 to 0-01 before Offaly eventually got their second score of the opening period on 32 minutes courtesy of a close-range Bernard Allen free.
However, there was still time for the Ulster side to add four more before the interval, through Guinness, frees from Liam Kerr and O’Hagan and a fine point from play by Cory Quinn in stoppage time to put the Mournemen 0-11 to 0-02 in front at the short whistle.
They were dealt a blow, though, right on the break when Johnny Flynn was black-carded.
Brazil and Kerr exchanged points from play early in the second half before a pair of Ruairi McNamee frees closed the gap to seven.
While Quinn lashed over the bar with a goal chance on for Down, Sullivan from play and a McNamee free gave the home side hope as they closed the gap to six, 0-13 to 0-07, with 49 minutes gone.
Offaly were then denied a goal two minutes later by a superb Peter Fegan block as Peter Cunningham got his shot away following Sullivan’s long ball in, before Kerr and Eoin Carroll traded scores to keep the six-point gap intact.
However, any chance of an Offaly comeback was made even less likely when Carroll was shown a second yellow card for a high tackle on Aaron Morgan, with O’Hagan converting the resultant free.
Down subs Connaire Harrison and Owen McCabe added further scores late on with Aaron Leavy converting for Offaly as the tie petered to a finish.
Offaly: Paddy Dunican; Colm Doyle, Eoin Rigney, Declan Hogan; Eoin Carroll (0-1), David Dempsey, Niall Darby; Cathal Mangan, Michael Brazil (0-1); Shane Horan, Conor McNamee, Peter Cunningham; Anton Sullivan (0-2), Bernard Allen (0-1, free), Ruairi McNamee (0-3, 3f)
Subs: Aaron Leavy (0-1) for C McNamee (45), Ciaran Donnelly for Brazil (60), Cian Johnson for Sullivan (60), Cian Donohue for Cunningham (70), Shane Nally for Doyle (70+2)
Down: Rory Burns; Peter Fegan, Patrick Murdock, Ryan McAleenan; Gerard Collins, James Guinness (0-3), Brendan McArdle; Johnny Flynn, Conor Poland; Barry O'Hagan (0-6, 4f), Ceilum Doherty (0-1), Liam Kerr (0-3, 1f); Daniel Guinness, Kevin McKernan, Cory Quinn (0-2)
Subs: Owen McCabe (0-1) for Flynn (52), Aaron Morgan for McKernan (55), Paul Devlin for Doherty (58), Connaire Harrison (0-1) for Quinn (62), Niall Donnelly for Murdock (66)
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork)