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NFL Division 2 North: Down get over the line as it's too little too late for Westmeath

By Cian Dalton

Down have Rory Burns and the crossbar to thank for their narrow victory over Westmeath in TEG Cusack Park Sunday afternoon. A late onslaught on the Down goal looked set to result in a second Westmeath goal but Burns’ penalty save, a clearance off the line from a Down leg and the crossbar saw them over the line.

If you decided to turn off the game after 45 minutes then I totally understand. Down were miles ahead and should have safely seen this one out. A cruel wind blew from left to right and favoured the visitors in the first half. Corey Quinn got them off the mark with a couple of frees. Westmeath got their first point after fourteen minutes, a John Heslin free. In fact, they didn’t score from play in the first half at all with all three points coming from Heslin placed balls.

The second half started the same as the first. Westmeath looked to be more attack minded playing with the wind but Paul Devlin stretched the lead with a pointed free. Ronan O’Toole, Westmeath’s brightest spark going forward, was black carded for a late tackle and it looked like an unsalvageable day for Jack Cooney and co.

Down were compact and defensively impressive. They were doing well in the kickout and seemed to be kicking well into a wind that Heslin struggled with before the break. On stepped Fola Ayorinde. The St. Loman’s man changed the game, scoring a well worked goal minutes after coming on. He also dominated the Down kickouts with Rory Burns insisting on kicking the ball high down on the top of Ayorinde.

It all seemed to be going Westmeath’s way at this stage. Corey Quinn responded well for the Mounremen after Ayorinde’s brilliant goal, but a penalty was awarded to the Lake County after Barry O’Hagan pulled the runner down, stopping a clear scoring chance and getting a black card for his troubles. Rory Burns might have done a better job for Manchester United against Villareal last week judging by his fine save from John Heslin’s penalty. A strong glove kept out the Westmeath talisman’s spotkick. He made another save from a close-range Brandon Kelly shot soon after, and Paddy Tally will be glad he put Burns’ name on the team sheet in a late change today.

The Down backline were under siege for the last twenty minutes of the game. A goal line clearance and the crossbar came to their aid, but Westmeath looked a different side to the same one that wilted in the first half. In the end, it was a case of too little too late for the hosts. Barry O’Hagan scored the vital point to keep the one point lead for Down as they shut up shop for the last few minutes of stoppage time.

Westmeath will now play the second last team in Division 2 South in a relegation playoff while Down will play the team in last place. It has been a disappointing lead campaign for both teams, but especially Westmeath, leaving it too late and leaving too much work to do to get a result from their matches.

Down will be worried about their second half performance. They blew a secure eight point lead and almost opened up enough for another goal at the end. They would have shared the spoils were it not a terrible last shot of the game from a Westmeath forward.

Down will feel confident against Laois in their playoff, while Westmeath will face an unpredictable Cork team. Listen to our podcast and read our previews of the games when they are on!

Westmeath: Jason Daly, Boidu Sayeh, Kevin Maguire, Jack Smith, Jamie Gonoud, Ronan Wallace, James Dolan, Ray Connellan, Sam Duncan, Ger Egan, Sam MacCartan, David Lynch, Ronan O’Toole, John Heslin, Luke Loughlin. Scorers: John Heslin (6 points, 5 frees)), Ger Egan (1 point (1 45)), Fola Ayorinde (1 goal), Brandon Kelly (1 point), Ronan O’Toole (1 point).

Down: Rory Burns, Gerard Collins, Brendan McArdle, Peter Fegan, Daniel Guinness, Darren O’Hagan, Pierce Laverty, Ryan McEvoy, Johnny Flynn, Calum Mooney, Calum Doherty, Liam Kerr, Conor McCrickard, Corey Quinn, Paul Devlin. Scorers: Corey Quinn (7 points (4 frees)), Paul Devlin (2 (2 frees)), Liam Kerr (1 point), Pierce Laverty (1 point), Barry O’Hagan (1 point), Caloan Mooney (1 point).

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