Down beat Sligo after extra time to reach Tailteann decider

Half-time sub Liam Kerr kicked three points in the second half
Liam Kerr celebrates after scoring a point for Down [Inpho]

Down beat 14-man Sligo after extra-time in Croke Park to reach the Tailteann Cup final for the second year in a row.

Odhran Murdock's penalty in the second half of extra time was decisive, giving Down a chance to atone for last year's final defeat by Meath when they play Laois in the decider on 13 July.

A red card for Sligo's Nathan Mullen after 60 minutes was a huge moment in the game, with his side leading 2-11 to 0-14.

Despite having scored goals in each half from Paddy O'Connor and Canice Mulligan, they never recovered from the red card as Down took over.

Ryan McEvoy's equaliser for Down in the eighth minute of stoppage time made it 0-18 to 2-12 and took the game to extra time.

Murdock's penalty in the 84th minute sealed victory for Conor Laverty's Down.

Determined Down

A moment of magic from Paddy O'Connor gave Sligo a first-half goal against Down
Paddy O'Connor scored a fabulous goal for Sligo against Down in Croke Park [Inpho]

Down desperately wanted a performance of merit after disappointing defeats in their last two visits to Croke Park in the last 12 months.

They were favourites to beat Meath in last year's Tailteann Cup final, and lost.

They were also favourites to beat Westmeath in this year's Division Three league final, and lost.

So Conor Laverty had his team battle ready and in Pat Havern they had the outstanding player on show in the opening half.

His six first-half points kept Down in the game when Sligo were playing more cohesive football in the opening period.

The sides were level three times in the first quarter until Paddy O'Connor's goal put Sligo ahead.

A great run by Cian Lally created the opening and O'Connor somehow collected the ball from behind his back, dropped it onto his right foot and unleashed a fierce shot to the far corner.

Danny Magill dragged a shot wide for Down at the other end, but they hit two late scores through Havern and Shealan Johnston to reduce the deficit to 1-6 to 0-8 at half time.

Down picked up where they left off with the opening two points of the second half before Sean Carabine ended a run of four Down points.

The second half had a lovely flow to it, delicately poised with both sides landing outstanding scores.

John McGovern scored a beauty from out wide for Down while half-time sub Liam Kerr was influential in the second half for the Mournemen with 0-3.

Down looked capable of scoring with every attack but Sligo were gritty with Sean Carabine, Darragh Cummins and Lee Deighnan landing booming points.

Down 'keeper John O'Hare tipped Carabine's shot over the bar while at the other end, Sligo 'keeper Aidan Devanney saved his fullback Eddie McGuinness from scoring a curious own goal.

Sligo's second goal from Canice Mulligan looked like a big score when it happened in the 56th minute.

Paul McNamara's inviting pass across the square was met by Mulligan at the back post who palmed the ball into an empty net to put Sligo ahead 2-11 to 0-13.

But it all changed with the red card.

14-man Sligo retreat

Mullen was shown a straight red for a tackle on Oisin Savage, who was stretchered off after a six-minute stoppage delay.

When play resumed, the momentum was totally with Down and they kept it for the rest of the game.

Sligo struggled with 14 players and just could not get up the field as Down - who looked extremely well conditioned and fit - swamped them and took control.

Caolan Mooney, looking sharp after too many years plagued by injury, kicked a crucial point within seconds of coming on and made a vital turnover as both teams tried to finish it in normal time.

Sligo went a long 20 minutes without scoring before Darragh Cummins popped up with an inspirational score six minutes into stoppage time but Ryan McEvoy had the last say with a cracking point to draw Down level, at 0-18 to 2-12 at the end of an exhausting 78 minutes to take it to extra time.

A penalty at any stage of a game is a pivotal score but in extra time it becomes even more significant and when McEvoy was fouled in front of Hill 16, Odhran Murdock slotted home the game-winning score after 84 minutes.