Five years may seem a long time, but the 60 second or so Armagh supports endured after Down’s final three pointer must have felt like a life time. Having thrown away a 5 point lead in normal time, the men in orange and white showed their battling qualities to edge out a titanic struggle against old rivals Down.
Rian O’Neill opened the scoring for the visitors from a difficult angle, his first ever Ulster Championship score. A Donal O’Hare point levelled matters before O’Neill was again on target to give Armagh the lead. Jerome Johnston opened his account with his sides second while Jamie Clarke continued the tit for tat nature of the game to put Armagh ahead 0-3 to 0-2.
Conor Poland drifted forward from his midfield berth to tie the score before James Morgan ventured forward and split the posts with an audacious outside of the foot effort. Connaire Harrison’s first point left the sides all square for a fourth time before Rian O’Neill broke through to give Armagh the minimum lead.
A high hanging ball drifted in towards the Armagh goal from Gerard Collins’ hopeful shot, with Pat Havern stretching above Brendan Donaghy and the advancing Blaine Hughes to see the ball nestle in the back of the net. Donal O’Hare stretched the home sides lead to 3 with a point from a free, Down now taking control of the contest, with Armagh playing the best football for the previous 20 minutes.
The next two scores belonged to Armagh however with Jamie Clarke settling his team with a point. A hugely dangerous high tackle from Caolan Mooney saw the Rostrever man sent to the line with a straight red card, Rian O’Neill tapping over the resulting free. Down leading at the half time break 1-5 to Armagh’s 0-7.
Aidan Nugent drew the sides with the first action of the second period while goal scorer Pat Havern edged his team back in front. Rian O’Neill and Jerome Johnston swapped frees before O’Neill saw the game tied once again. With the sides level, Rory Burns, the Down net minder, saw the line for a black card offence, the momentum now swinging heavily in Armagh’s favour. Armagh charged forward and Ryan Kennedy swung over to see his side in front once again.
Burns’ replacement struggled to cope with the pressure and Armagh began to pull away with a brilliant goal by Mark Shields followed by a Stefan Campbell point. Conor Francis got his name on the score sheet with a well worked score before the accurate O’Neill chipped over another free, his 7th point of the game.
Disaster then struck for the Orchard county as a turnover in the middle of the field saw Down steal forward, resulting in Donal O’Hare planting the ball in the Armagh net. Paul Devlin and James Guinness tagged on scores to level the game with full time soon approaching. Both Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell had chances to steal the show but failed to hit the target, extra time now awaiting the teams with the game tied 2-10 to 1-13 after 70 minutes.
Downs momentum carried through to extra time when Paul Devlin put them one ahead. James Guinness and Barry O’Hagan tagged on scores to see their side three up, with Armagh’s solidary reply coming through Ryan Kennedy, who fired over the bar when the goal had been sharply cut off by the down defence. Down lead at the interval 2-13 to 1-14.
If the last 10 minutes of normal time were hectic, the second half of extra time could only be described as incredible. Stefan Campbell shot for his second point of the game before super sub Andrew Murnin, who’s introduction gave Armagh a much needed boost, levelled the game with his first touch of 2019.
His second touch was even better and a touch was all that was required when Rian O’Neill’s route one pass saw Murnin flick the ball past the frozen Mark Hynes. O’Neill then had the chance to extend Armagh’s lead, which he expertly took to give Armagh a four point advantage with time almost up.
Their would be one final twist to the tale of course, as a hopeful lob into the box from Paul Devlin ended in the Armagh net. Devlin will claim the goal as it was debateable whether anyone gave it a helping hand. Armagh were not to be denied however and came away with an impressive 2-17 to 3-13 victory.
Armagh now face Cavan in two weeks time, but the Armagh faithful won’t worry about the Breffni Blues just yet, as they celebrate the bragging rights earned by their team today.
Armagh: Blaine Hughes, Patrick Burns, Aaron McKay, Paul Hughes, Ryan Kennedy (0-1), Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker, Charlie Vernon, Jarlath Og Burns, Aidan Nugent (0-1), Ethan Rafferty, Jemar Hall, Rory Grugan, Rian O’Neill (0-7), Jamie Clarke (0-2) Subs: James Morgan (0-1) for P. Burns, Mark Shields (1-0) for C. Vernon, Joe McElroy for P. Hughes, Stefan Campbell (0-1) for E. Rafferty, Stephen Sheridan for R. Kennedy, Greg McCabe for J. Hall.
Down: Rory Burns, Darren O’Hagan, Ruairi Wells, Gerard Collins, Ryan McAleenan, Kevin McKernan, Daniel Guinness, Caolan Mooney, Conor Poland (0-1), Conor Francis (0-1), Jerome Johnston (0-2), Conor Maginn, Pat Havern (1-1), Donal O’Hare (1-3), Connaire Harrison (0-1) Subs: James Guinnes (0-1) for R.Wells, Barry O’Hagan for C. Maginn, Mark Hynes for Rory Burns, Cory Quinn for P. Havern, Paul Devlin for J. Johnston, Owen McCabe for C. Poland.
Armagh: Blaine Hughes, James Morgan, Aaron McKay, Greg McCabe, Ryan Kennedy (0-1), Brendan Donaghy, Charlie Vernon, Stephen Sheridan, Jarlath Og Burns, Stefan Campbell (0-1), Mark Shields, Joe McElroy, Rory Grugan, Rian O’Neill (0-1), Jamie Clarke Subs: Ben Crealey for S.Sheridan, Andrew Murnin (1-1), for G. McCabe, E. Rafferty for R. Grugan
Down: Mark Hynes, Darren O’Hagan, James Guinness (0-1), Gerard Collins, Ryan McAleenan, Kevin McKernan, Daniel Guinness, Ryan Mallon, Owen McCabe, Conor Francis, Paul Devlin (1-2), Cory Quinn, Barry O’Hagan, Donal O’Hare, Connaire Harrison Subs: Conor Poland for J. Guinness, Pat Havern for R.Mallon, Jerome Johnston for D. O’Hare.