Down hurlers draw at home

Down hurlers draw at home

8 May 2024

DOWN are unbeaten in Ballycran this season and on Saturday they forced Westmeath, the pre-competition favourites for the Joe McDonagh Cup, to fight for a draw that they achieved when veteran full-back Tommy Doyle pointed in the fifth minute of added time.

There was a certain symmetry with the draw because it means that the teams have played each other three times this season and they stand on one win each plus the draw. 

Perhaps it could well have been an even better outcome for Ronan Sheehan’s side, but the point earned keeps them in contention for an outside chance of qualifying for the final.

Last week’s loss in Tralee has made that possibility a little remote, while Sheehan stated prior to Saturday’s game that the main aim for the team was to remain in the competition for a fifth year in succession. 

With two rounds left they should be comfortable enough as it will take Down to lose to both Laois and Offaly while bottom teams Meath and Westmeath have still to play each other.

However, things didn’t start well in McKenna Park for the home side with the visitors registering the first five points inside six minutes. 

Down though managed to get a foothold in the game before a quarter of an hour had passed. 

They still trailed by 0-9 to 0-3 at that stage and Killian Doyle made life even more difficult for them by firing home the first goal.

A huge second quarter, however, brought Down back into contention, beginning with a goal from Tom McGrattan in the 18th minute.

The home side was now closing down the play and winning a lot of dirty ball as they edged closer on the scoreboard.

Three minutes from the interval Portaferry team-mates Daithí Sands and Tom McGrattan combined for the latter to score his second goal. 

That reduced the margin to 1-12 to 2-8 and, with Pearse Óg McCrickard’s accurate from play and frees, Down would have been happy enough trailing by 2-10 to 1-15 at the change of ends.

McCrickard hit two of his side’s first three points of the second half to put the home team 2-13 to 1-15 ahead and that got better when McGrattan completed his hat-trick with a 44th minute strike. Down were now three up.

However, over the next ten minutes Westmeath scored five points as against just one from the Down men and they now led by 3-14 to 1-21.

It was Down’s turn to hit back and with 65 minutes gone on the clock they had got themselves back in the lead, 3-18 to 1-23.

There was just one score over the next five minutes and that came from Westmeath to tie the teams. 

Three added minutes were signalled and in the first of these McCrickard hit his 13th score of the day. 

However, it wasn’t to be lucky 13 as Doyle pushed up and hit the target to earn his side a draw.

Elsewhere in the group, Laois won the top of the table clash in Tralee by 1-25 to 0-18 while Offaly moved into second place ahead of Kerry with an emphatic 5-31 to 3-16 win over a Meath side rooted to the foot of the table.

Down: S Keith, M Conlan, C Cassidy, D Mallon, C Taggart, R McCrickard, J McManus, D Hughes (0-1), L Savage, P Óg McCrickard (0-13, 9f), E Sands, T McGrattan (3-2), D Sands (0-1), F Turpin, T Prenter. 

Subs: P Savage (0-2) for Prenter (15), T Murray for J McManus (20), B Trainor for D Mallon (35), P Sheehan for Turpin (67), M Fisher for R McCrickard (70+3).

Westmeath: N Conaty, J Bermingham, T Doyle (0-1), C Gaffney, A Clarke (0-1), D Egerton, A Craig, P Clarke, K Regan (0-2), N Mitchell, D Williams (0-4, 2f), O McCabe (0-1), D O’Reilly (0-5), K Doyle (1-7, 7f), E Keyes. 

Subs: J Mulkearns for Conaty (10), C Doyle (0-2, 1f) for Doyle (35), C McCormack for Clarke (49), D Clinton (0-2) for Keyes (54), J Gillen for McCabe (67), J Smyth for C Doyle (70+2).

Referee: J Connors (Donegal).