Kildare brushed past Down in Páirc Esler Newry, with an emphatic ten-point win, 1-18 to 0-11. Kildare had breezed into a five-point half-time lead but within seven minutes of the restart Down were level. The problem for Down that there was no scoring support for Benny Coulter and Donal O’Hare (0-3 apiece) and the superior finishing of Kildare told.
Gary White, who started in midfield in place of Sean Hurley pointed inside three minutes, with Cathal McNally adding a second shortly after. Fergal Conway was booked for a reckless tackle with O’Hare firing over the resulting free. If there is one criticism of Down it is their over-reliance on O’Hare placed ball capability and it was the Burren marksman who levelled the game after 9 minutes.
Kildare looked like they had put their disappointing display against Meath behind them as they scored five points without reply to go into a commanding 0-7 to 0-2 lead inside the half hour. First Padraig Fogarty registered their third point from play 10 minutes in and with Gary White dropping deep it gave their wing backs a chance to attack and Eamonn O’ Callaghan and Padraig O’Neill added points.
Callaghan saw a black card and was replaced by Alan Smith who pushed them five clear following O’Neill second of the game. As tempers flared, Down’s Mark Poland and Kildare duo Emmett Bolton and Ciaran Fitzpatrick all saw yellow before Benny Coulter and Eoghan O’Flaherty traded scores to give Kildare a five-point cushion; 0-8 to 0-3 at the break.
The 6,375 in attendance were expecting a response from Down and got it with five points in the first seven minutes tying the game at 0-8 apiece. O’Hare kick-started the revival with a free inside the opening minute. Then a Benny Coulter brace either side of points from Kevin McKernan and Darren O’Hagan brought them level.
Smith tagged on his second and Padraig Fogarty slotted a free to give them a two-point lead before Gary White was next to see black. Points from Declan Rooney and Conor Maginn leveled the game 0-10 apiece with 52 minutes played, but Down couldn’t find another gear. Michael Cunningham kept out a certain goal but couldn’t do anything as Fogarty pointed the resulting ’45 and a Bolton score saw them lead by two once more. Down had little left with Conor Laverty’s point with 13 minutes remaining their last score of the game as Kildare injected some pace into their play as they led 0-12 to 0-11.
A questionable Fogarty point was followed by a brace from Niall Kelly and with Down looking dead on their feet, points from O’Neill, Smith and McNally put gloss on the scoreline. There was still time for Tommy Moolick to add a brilliant goal as he blasted the ball into the corner from 20 yards. Kildare looked like they were back to their best. Tougher tests await but when Down were on the up, they produced what was required to seal victory, 1-18 to 0-11.
Down: Michael Cunningham; Daniel McCartan, Niall Donnelly (Declan Rooney 0-1), Darren O’Hagan (0-1); Ciaran McCartan, Conor Garvey, Kevin McKernan (0-1); Dan Gordon, Peter Turley; Brendan Coulter (0-3), Conor Maginn (0-1), Mark Poland; Donal O’Hare (0-3, 3f), Niall Madine, Conor Laverty (0-1).
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Ciaran Fitzpatrick, Hugh McGrillen, Ollie Lyons; Emmet Bolton (0-1), Fergal Conway, Keith Cribbin; Tommy Moolick (1-0), Gary White (0-1); Cathal McNally (0-2), Niall Kelly (0-2), Padraig O’Neill (0-3); Eamonn Callaghan (0-1) (Alan Smith 0-3), Padraig Fogarty (0-4, 1f, 1’45), Eoghan O’Flaherty (0-1)