Win over Down gives Dublin semi-final spot
Dublin 1-15 Down 0-9
Dublin secured their Allianz League Division 1 semi-final place as they ran out nine-point winners over Down at Croke Park.
With Donal O’Hare and Mark Poland to the fore, Down raced into a surprise 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
Further scores from O’Hare and Paul McComiskey gave them a 0-7 to 0-5 interval advantage.
However, wind-backed Dublin regrouped as points from Stephen Cluxton and man-of-the-match Paul Mannion moved them ahead for the first time, and Kevin McManamon’s 50th-minute goal proved decisive.
Jim Gavin's charges were aiming to bounce back from their narrow defeat to Tyrone at the same venue last weekend, whereas Down desperately needed to pick up a victory in their quest to avoid relegation from the league's top tier.
The Mourne men certainly started with plenty of intent, and they made their strong wind advantage count during the early exchanges. A couple of excellent scores from Mark Poland and full-back Brendan McArdle got their account up and running.
Dublin, on the other hand, were finding it difficult to play with the same level of intensity that had been so evident in their previous outings, although they did rein in their opponents' early surge courtesy of a sixth minute free from man-of-the-match Paul Mannion.
James McCartan's outfit continued to take the game to the Dubs though, and they held a four-point cushion with 12 minutes gone following a superb free from the outside of the boot by Poland, and a point apiece from Donal O'Hare and midfielder Kevin McKernan.
Given the overall form of the two teams prior to this game, Down's whirlwind start came as something of a surprise, and even though Dublin started to get on top of possession around the middle-third as the first half wore on, they were struggling to break down a disciplined Down rearguard.
Connolly pointed from 30 metres out, but we had to wait a further 15 minutes for the next score of the contest when the returning Bryan Cullen registered his side's opening point from play.
Although the momentum appeared to be on Dublin's side moving towards the interval, Down responded in fine fashion as efforts from the in-form O'Hare and Paul McComiskey came either side of a Cian O'Sullivan score from close range.
Industrious half-back Nicky Devereux split the posts from distance to leave just two points between the teams.
With the elements behind them for the second period, Dublin reduced the gap to the bare minimum five minutes after the restart with a magnificent point from long range by Connolly.
O'Hare, who started the game as the division's joint top scorer with Bernard Brogan, quickly cancelled out that effort with a routine free into Hill 16, but a resurgent Dublin were back on level terms by the 44th minute thanks to fine contributions from Paddy Andrews and Connolly.
At this point, there was a sense that Dublin had the capacity to push for their fifth league triumph of 2013, and subsequent points from captain Stephen Cluxton, from a well-struck '45', and Mannion moved them into the lead for the very first time.
This was then added to by a slick goal finish from a short distance by McManamon after substitute Michael Darragh Macauley had embarked on a trademark run through the heart of the Down defence.
With the impressive duo of Connolly and Mannion once again raising white flags, the Dubs raced into an unassailable seven-point lead.
Having performed so effectively in the first half, Down simply could not live with the increased tempo of the Leinster champions and they had to wait until the 67th minute for their ninth score of the evening when substitute Danny Savage slotted over a tricky free from the right wing.
Fellow substitute Ryan Kelly also forced a fine save from the ever-influential Cluxton, and Dublin finished the floodlit tie in fine fettle as a brace from Mannion and a close-in score from Andrews put the seal on a well-earned win.
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton (0-1, 0-1 '45'); Darren Daly, Jonny Cooper, Kevin O'Brien; Jack McCaffrey, Ger Brennan, Nicky Devereux (0-1); Cian O'Sullivan (0-1), Denis Bastick; Craig Dias, Paddy Andrews (0-2, 0-1f), Bryan Cullen (0-1); Kevin McManamon (1-0), Diarmuid Connolly (0-4, 0-3f), Paul Mannion (0-5, 0-3f).
Subs used: Michael Darragh Macauley for Bastick (23 mins), Shane Carthy for Dias (47), Chris Guckian for Daly (52), Philly Ryan for Connolly (60), Kevin Nolan for McCaffrey (66).
DOWN: Brendan McVeigh; Declan Rooney, Brendan McArdle (0-1), Ryan Boyle; Damian Turley, Keith Quinn, Darren O'Hagan; Peter Turley, Kevin McKernan (0-1); Conor Laverty, Mark Poland (0-2, 0-1f), Paul McComiskey (0-1); Donal O'Hare (0-3, 0-2f), Arthur McConville, Benny Coulter.
Subs used: Connaire Harrison for McConville (31 mins), David McKibbin for D Turley (50), Kalum King for Rooney (53), Danny Savage (0-1, 0-1f) for Poland (56), Ryan Kelly for O'Hare (60).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)