Down’s top 10 wins

1 2010: DOWN 1-16 KERRY 1-10

THE silverware has dried up for Down since the turn of the Millennium but, on occasion, they have still shown why they are known as the aristocrats of Gaelic football. That was never more evident than in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final when they blew hot favourites Kerry out of the water with a tremendous performance.

The die was cast after just 52 seconds when Kalum King forced a turn-over in midfield and passed to Paul McComiskey who clipped a 50-50 ball towards Mark Poland. The Longstone man caught bravely and blasted to the net and the Kingdom were always playing catch-up. On a rainy day at Croke Park, Down puffed out their chests and when McComiskey’s monster point put them 1-3 to 0-0 ahead in the 11th minute, Kerry were already looking nervy. A David Moran penalty late on would put some respectability on the scoreboard but like every time before, the Ulster side had bested them in the All-Ireland Championship.

2 2010: DOWN 1-16 KILDARE 1-14

A MONTH after hitting 1-16 against Kerry, Down managed the same total against Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final, but there would be no comfortable buffer this time around. The red and white of the two sets of supporters created a beautiful tapestry at Croke Park and those in attendance were treated to a thriller.

There was controversy in the 12th minute as the exceptional Martin Clarke’s shot dropped short and was punched home by Benny Coulter for his 18th championship goal. It shouldn’t have counted as the Mayobridge maestro was in the square before the ball arrived, but it stood and with Kevin McKernan and Danny Hughes both popping up for a couple of great points, and Benny Coulter nailing one of the scores of the year on the whistle, Down led 1-9 to 0-7 at the break.

Kieran McGeeney’s side started to turn the screw in the second half though. The Lilywhites cracked the post in the 43rd minute but Eamonn Callaghan’s goal sparked them into life. Two points separated the sides when Kildare were awarded a close-in free with seconds remaining, but Rob Kelly’s rocket deflected off the underside of the bar and Pat McEnaney blew the full-time whistle.

3 2017: DOWN 1-14 MONAGHAN 0-15

FOR some context, Down had taken plenty of knocks from media, fans and, admittedly, opposing teams as they struggled to get going under the late Eamonn Burns. Some of their players felt that the media criticism of their manager was too much, and made their thoughts known. While that was a good start, their performances on the pitch in the 2017 Ulster Championship backed it up.

A win over a fancied Armagh had earned them a semi-final spot at the Athletic Grounds, but they weren’t given a chance in hell against a Monaghan side intent on making up for their loss to Donegal at the same stage the year before. Ryan Wylie opened the scoring in the ninth minute but the red-hot Connaire Harrison was kicking boomers to help Down into a 0-10 to 0-8 half-time lead. A trademark Kevin McKernan sliced effort saw Down move four ahead early in the second period, and from the next attack Niall McParland was fouled for a penalty that was converted by Darragh O’Hanlon.

From there Monaghan started to eat away at the Mourne lead though, and when Kieran Hughes drilled over in the 66th minute to leave just one between them, the roar of the Oriel faithful suggested that the tide had turned. Down had a goal ruled out for a soft free on Rory Beggan to keep Monaghan alive, but as they pushed forward for that equaliser, they were hit on the counter and Donal O’Hare landed the insurance score to spark wild celebrations on the pitch.

4 2008: DOWN 1-19 TYRONE 0-21

THE Saturday night replay when Páirc Esler simply rocked. Tyrone looked purposeful early on but late first-half scores from Dan Gordon and Paul Murphy meant that the hosts were just one point behind at the interval. Martin Penrose extended Tyrone’s lead to two with a nice effort, but with Liam Doyle’s passing opening things up,

Down roared back to lead by a couple of points heading into the final quarter. Joe McMahon hit the post with the goal gaping, but Mickey Harte’s side did force extra-time thanks to a pair of Tommy McGuigan frees. It looked like a clear momentum shift, especially with the Red Hands starting extra-time so well, but Benny Coulter’s slapped goal proved decisive on a crazy night in Newry.

5 2017: DOWN 0-15 ARMAGH 2-7

ANTHONY Doherty and Connaire Harrison were surprise starters for Down as they tried to tame an Armagh attack talked up massively pre-match. It was the Mourne county who started brightest though as they ran into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead with Shay Millar excelling on his championship debut. Mark Shield’s goal got Armagh going and when Andrew Murnin added a second the Orchard county were looking good. Crucially they would waste a number of other great goal chances in that first period.

After the break  Down blocked the inside channel, set Caolan Mooney and Darragh O’Hanlon up as a counter-attacking twosome, and tactically destroyed their opponents. Down restricted them to just three second-half points with the suspended Kieran McGeeney watching through his fingers in the stands. The Mourne county earned their first win over their rivals in 25 years.

6 2010: DOWN 1-15 DONEGAL 2-10

A THIRD entry from that magical 2010 season and the first real sign that there was something a bit different about James McCartan’s side. They looked in trouble early on as Dermot Molloy and Conall Dunne hit early goals in Ballybofey, but the majestic Benny Coulter caused enough harm to keep Down in it at the other end. Paul Durcan pulled off a magnificent save from Dan Gordon in the final minutes and the game moved to extra-time.

Donegal nearly took control when Benny McArdle deflected the ball onto his own post, but the crucial moment came when Man of the Match Coulter took a pass from Martin Clarke, side-stepped Durcan and fired to the net. Coulter buck-leapt in celebration, and who could blame him?

7 2012: DOWN 1-14 MONAGHAN 1-13

THERE are few things sweeter in sport than an epic comeback. Down were on the wrong side of that in last year’s Ulster semi-final against Cavan, but at the same stage in 2012 they had one of those days that will always raise a smile amongst their fans. With Paul Finlay and Conor McManus excelling, Monaghan led 0-11 to 0-2 on the cusp of the interval.

Down’s lifeline arrived just before half-time though as Conor Laverty’s superb run down the right flank ended up with a converted Aidan Carr penalty. The comeback continued as Down got back to within a point, but they switched off for a free-kick and Tommy Freeman rattled the net to stop them in their tracks. The introduction of Benny Coulter with five minutes left got them going again though and they reeled off four points without reply to reach the Ulster final – Darren O’Hagan fisting over the winner.

8 2003: DOWN 1-12 MONAGHAN 0-13

IT may seem like we are picking on Monaghan a bit, but this win was vital for Down as it ended a six-game winless streak in the championship. Since their win over Tyrone in the 1999 semi-final, the Mourne county had lost to Armagh (twice), Antrim, Cavan, Donegal and Longford – so a victory was long overdue.

The Oriel county had shocked All-Ireland holders Armagh in the preliminary round, and they continued their good form as they led 0-9 to 0-5 well into the first half. Liam Doyle kept Down in touch and Mickey Walsh’s goal at the start of the second half gave Paddy O’Rourke’s side the platform for victory. They would go on to beat Fermanagh in the semi-final before coming so close to bettering Tyrone in the Ulster final.

9 2013: DOWN 2-17 DERRY 1-15

A GREAT advertisement for Ulster football as Down came from behind to win at Celtic Park. Eoin Bradley was on fire for Derry in the first half and he set up Mark Lynch up for a goal to give the hosts a 1-10 to 0-9 interval lead. It could have been worse for Down only for Brendan McVeigh to deny Bradley with an excellent one-handed save.

Down came to life in the third quarter with as Mark Poland and Donal O’Hare both set each other up for goals – with Conor Laverty doing great work in the build-up to both – and although Derry got back to within two points, late points from the superb Kevin McKernan (2) and Jerome Johnston sealed the win.

10 2009: DOWN 2-9 LAOIS 0-7

PERHAPS an odd inclusion, but Down were a Division Three team and Laois played in the second tier, yet it was the Mourne county that sauntered through.

In driving rain, Down showed class and composure to shrug off the Leinster outfit. Paul McComiskey’s goal and a couple of Timmy Hanna points gave Down a 1-4 to 0-4 lead at the turn, and they continued to dominate after the break with Benny Coulter grabbing their second major. A tricky assignment turned into a wet stroll in the park.

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