Laois 0-10 Down 2-11
A goal in either half proved vital for Down as they secured an Allianz Football League Division 1 semi-final berth thanks to this final round 2-11 to 0-10 win in Portlaoise.
Conor Laverty (1-00) and Benny Coulter (1-01) raised the green flags in a game which Down led by 1-05 to 0-05 at half-time.
Gary Walsh, Brendan Quigley, Conor Boyle and Ross Munnelly kept Laois in touch, but Coulter’s 45th-minute strike sent the Mourne men through to the last-four and relegated the midlanders.
Laois were unchanged from the team named during the week, while Down manager James McCartan made two late changes to his starting line-up.
Both changes came in attack, with Kevin McKernan replacing Danny Hughes and Arthur McConville coming in for Conor Maginn.
Down settled quickest and opened the scoring through a McConville free. The hosts replied with a Gary Walsh score in the fifth minute, but Laverty rocked Laois with the first goal of the contest.
A high delivery into the Down full-forward line was palmed down by Coulter who knocked the ball into the path of Laverty and he fisted it past goalkeeper Eoin Culliton.
Down were more economical with their possession in the opening half, with Laois amassing eight wides by the interval - four of those in the opening nine minutes.
Colm Begley, Peter O’Leary, John O’Loughlin and Darren Strong were guilty of misses. They also had a point attempt from Walsh in the 11th minute ruled out by referee Syl Doyle.
Laois landed their first score in eight minutes thanks to a ‘45′ from Walsh, but Down looked sharp and outscored their opponents by three points to one between the 14th and 23rd minutes.
Mark Poland had two goal-scoring chances blocked by Culliton in the 24th minute before Conor Boyle claimed a rare score for the O’Moore men.
A blazing shot from McConville in the 32nd minute represented Down’s ifrst wide, and two further missed chances followed from Coulter and Kevin McKernan inside a three-minute spell.
Ross Munnelly and Keith Quinn then traded points to ensure Down led by 1-05 to 0-05 at the break.
Laois manager Justin McNulty hoped that the introduction of NUI Maynooth student Paul Cahillane would add a bit of fire to his attack in the second half, but agains the visitors started strongly.
Down had a chance to open their second half account when McConville cut loose in the 40th minute. The Under-21 player bore down on goal, but the Clonduff clubman was denied by a superb block from Culliton.
Down continued to press hard, aided by their strong dominance at midfield which ensured some quality ball for their forwards.
Aidan Carr missed two scoring opportunities inside three minutes, yet Coulter made amends to slot over his first point in the 41st minute.
Down, who lost full-back Dan Gordon to injury, opened up the Laois rearguard again shortly afterwards as Coulter picked off his goal.
Laverty combined with Carr in the build-up, with the latter laying the ball off to the inrushing Coulter whose precision finish put the visitors six points ahead.
Substitutes Damien O’Connor and Cahillane replied for Laois who were hampered by yellow cards for Padraig Clancy and Cahir Healy..
McConville landed his third point and then Down captain Mark Poland added another, but only after Culliton again pulled off a superb save - this time he foiled McConville.
Substitute David Conway pegged a point back for Laois with exactly 10 minutes remaining. Down though were good value for their 2-08 to 0-09 lead.
Laois lacked the clinical edge to really heap the pressure on McCartan’s side. Peter O’Leary had a goal-bound shot saved by net minder Brendan McVeigh, and Cahillane failed to convert the resulting ‘45′.
Colm Kelly became the midlanders’ ninth scorer of the day as the gap was cut to four points. However, Laois needed a goal at this stage and it never came.
Closing points from Ambrose Rogers, Carr and Quinn ensured a seven-point victory for Down, who finished third in the final Division 1 table just behind semi-final opponents Cork.
Scorers - Laois: G Walsh 0-02 (0-01f, 0-01 ‘45′), C Begley, R Munnelly (0-01f), C Kelly (0-01f), D Conway (0-01f), B Quigley, C Boyle, D O’Connor, P Cahillane 0-01 each
Down: B Coulter 1-01, C Laverty 1-00, A McConville 0-03 (0-02f), K Quinn, A Carr (0-01f) 0-02 each, M Poland, A Rogers, C Garvey 0-01 each
LAOIS: E Culliton; M Timmons, C Healy, K Lillis; K Meaney, P O’Leary, C Boyle; J O’Loughlin, B Quigley; B Sheehan, R Munnelly, D Strong; C Begley, P Clancy, G Walsh.
Subs used: D O’Connor for Timmons (25 mins), P Cahillane for Walsh (half-time), D Conway for Munnelly (53), C Kelly for Sheehan (59), S Conroy for Clancy (70+1).
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, A Branagan; N McParland, B McArdle, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; K McKernan, M Poland, A Carr; B Coulter, C Laverty, A McConville.
Subs used: K Quinn for McParland (32 mins), D Turley for Gordon (44), N Branagan for A Branagan (66), M Miskelly for Laverty (70+1).
Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford)446