FROM ODHRÁN CRUMLEY
ULSTER SFC QUARTER FINAL 2017
An impressive second half showing from Eamonn Burns’ Down side ensured they left Pairc Esler with the ‘bragging rights’ and more importantly a place in the Semi Final of the Ulster Championship.
The home side were quickest out of the blocks racing into an early four point lead holding their opponents scoreless for the opening thirteen minutes of the contest. Caolan Mooney opened the scoring before Connaire Harrison doubled his side’s advantage pointing under immense pressure.
Long range frees from goalkeeper Michael Cunningham and Jerome Johnston gave their side a four-nil lead after ten minutes. Armagh finally registered on the scoreboard in the thirteenth minute the Down defence failing to deal with a high ball allowing Mark Shields to latch on before shooting high into the roof of the net.
Darragh O’Hanlon replied immediately from a free before Armagh defender Aaron McKay got on the end of an ‘eye of the needle’ pass from Jamie Clarke only to blaze his effort high over the crossbar with the goal gaping.
Harrison got his second of the day minutes later before the Orchard once again took advantage of Mourne defensive frailties. Andrew Murnin, placing his shot into the corner of the net to give his side the lead for the first time in the game on the twenty second minute.
This would Armagh greatest spell in the game Aidan Forker and Paul Hughes finding range extending the lead to three. The men in black and red would respond firstly Darragh O’Hanlon cut the gap to two before Connaire Harrison and Shay Millar finished to tie the game.
Things could have been worse for Eamonn Burns’ side after a swift counter attacking move saw Andrew Murnin jink past Cunningham only for debutant Andrew Doherty to pull off a fingertip save denying the Armagh forward a sure goal.
A moment of individual class from Stephen Sheridan a looping effort from all of fifty yards dropping over is all that would split the sides at the break. Armagh leading by the minimum on a score line of 2-4 to 0-9.
It was a case of déjà vu at the beginning of the second half as the home side reasserted their early dominance, O’Hanlon and Mooney edging Down ahead. The pace of Conor Maginn would allow the number eleven to fist over the bar to extend the lead to three.
With fifteen minutes of the second half played, the Orchard would raise their first flag of the second half substitute Anto Duffy on target seconds after entering the fray. Anthony Doherty’s debut would end on the fifty six minute of the game after referee Conor Lane brandished a certain black card.
The introduction of Barry O’Hagan added another dimension to the Down attack and his direct running and accurate shooting restored the three point lead with seven to play.
Three points separated the sides as five additional minutes were added on by Conor Lane. Those five minutes were to be packed with incident beginning with Gavin McParland reducing the gap to two with a free from the surface. After a delay in play as Kevin McKiernan received treatment on his shoulder the Sigerson Cup winner was forced to continue as his side had used all their substitutions.
David McKibben restored the Mourne advantage to three with a long range effort in the seventy fifth minute. Armagh broke in desperate search of a goal McKiernan was then shown a black card for pulling down the onrushing Armagh attacker. Tempers became frayed at this late stage with nothing more than ‘pushing and shoving’. Jamie Clarke would point the late free before Conor Lane would bring proceedings to a halt.
The Mourne Men running out two point victors and claiming the bragging rights over neighbours Armagh.
Down will now face the winners of next Sunday’s Cavan/Monaghan Quarter Final on Saturday June 4th at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
Down: M Cunningham (0-01, f); A Doherty, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (0-04, 2f), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-02); K McKernan, N Donnelly; P Turley, C Maginn (0-01), S Millar (0-01); J Johnston (0-01, f), C Harrison (0-02), R Johnston (0-01).
Subs: B O’Hagan (0-01), for Harrison (52), D McKibben (0-01) for Donnelly (52), N McParland for Doherty (BC, 55), J Murphy for R Johnston (57), A Carr for Turley (71), M Poland for Maginn (71)
Armagh: B Hughes; J Morgan, C Vernon, P Hughes (0-01); A McKay (0-01), B Donaghy, M Shields (1-00); S Sheridan (0-01), J McElroy; A Forker (0-01), O O’Neill, R Grugan, J Clarke (0-01, f), S Campbell, A Murnin (1-00).
Subs: N Grimley for Vernon (42), A Duffy (0-01) for O’Neill (47), G McParland (0-01, f)for Grugan (57), N Rowland for Forker (65), C O’Hanlon for Murnin (75), C McKeever for Campbell (75)
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)