Down claim NHL Division 2 title

Westmeath 3-7 Down 5-15

Centre half forward Paul Braniff scored 3-7 as Down claimed the Allianz NHL Division 2 final, and promotion to the top flight, defeating Westmeath at the Gaelic Grounds.

Centre half forward Braniff was central to all that was good about John Crossey’s side this afternoon, as he hit an unstoppable 3-07 to see Down replace Offaly in the top flight.

With both sides unbeaten in the league and drawing their only meeting of the season in Portaferry, Westmeath were mindful of a bright opening and it came their way with two goals inside the first 11 minutes.

A lay-off for their league top scorer Andrew Mitchell (1-54) saw John Shaw goal after just eight minutes.

Mitchell exchanged points with Braniff following Westmeath’s second goal, fired past Down ‘keeper Graham Clarke in the 11th minute, as the Leinster side assumed a 2-01 to 0-01 lead.

Mitchell’s score had come with 20 minutes on the clock, but Tom Ryan’s side were to go scoreless for the remainder of the half as Down ripped 2-06 past their stunned opponents for a six-point half time lead.

Brendan McGourty plucked two points from the Westmeath rearguard before Braniff pointed and then goaled to level the game at 1-04 to 2-01 on 29 minutes.

Braniff and Graham Johnston both pointed, as Down stretched their lead further thanks to Mick Braniff as the right corner forward found the Westmeath net in injury time.

Two minutes after the restart Johnston connected left-handed with a through ball from Gabriel Clarke to send Down further in front with a third goal.

Nine points down, Westmeath substitute Killian Causeway responded with a brilliantly struck solo goal.

Braniff brought Down’s tally to 2-08 with another point before Kennedy and Mitchell rallied Westmeath back to within five points at 3-03 to 3-08 down, on 46 minutes.

John Shaw almost got a goal back but Clarke was alert in the Down net to parry away his shot.

Braniff began motoring with a second goal on 49 minutes and with fourteen minutes remaining, he swung his left leg to a loose ball to kick Down into a 4-11 to 3-05 lead.

Mitchell and Shaw tagged on late scores as Braniff finished out his tally of 3-07 with a 61st minute goal and shared four more points with McGourty and Gerard Adair in a superlative display.

Down’s win sees two Ulster teams in the top flight next season, with Antrim having curbed relegation this season.

WESTMEATH: M Briody, D Curley, B Murtagh, P Greville, D Gallagher, C Murtagh, D McCormack, P Williams, O Devine, R Whelan, V Bateman, A Mitchell; D Carty, J Shaw, B Kennedy.

DOWN: Graham Clarke; L Clarke, S Murray, E Dorrian; S Wilson, G Savage, Gabriel Clarke; A Savage, G Adair; G McGrattan, P Braniff, B McGourty; J Convery, G Johnston, Mick Braniff.

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