Armagh undone by Down fightback
Armagh 3-14 Down 5-20
It was a pulsating encounter with several sensational scores but it was Down who struck a purple patch at the start of the second half when they rattled in 1-4 within five minutes.
While both managers have accepted that they would rather be playing Ulster Championship hurling before the Christy Ring competition, Down boss Michael Johnston was pleased with how his side played.
"Our fitness and our hurling really told in the second half once we regrouped and got ourselves balanced - so we are happy enough and we are pleased with some of scores," said Johnston.
Danny Toner and Steven Dineen opened Down's account while Ryan Gaffney and Cathal Carvill replied for Armagh.
Eion McGuinness struck a cracking goal after excellent work between Carvill and young prospect Peter McKearney.
But each time the Orchard men seemed to be getting a grip on the game, Down led by the wonderful Gareth Johnson, possessed the quality to pick off scores.
Paul Sheehan, who was playing against his Shamrocks team-mates Artie and Eoin McGuinness, Toner and James Coyle all pointed to level the score for the second time but McKearney and captain John Corvan tapped between the posts to edge Armagh ahead.
But as Down were closing the gap with further points from Toner and Johnston, Armagh's Martin Moan made a run through Down's defence and struck the net for a great goal.
However it was immediately cancelled out as Fintan Conway received an intelligent pass from Johnston before drilling past Armagh keeper Simon Doherty.
Armagh were awarded a fortunate penalty with seconds left before the break but Ryan Gaffney squandered the opportunity by firing his shot wide, yet there was still enough time for Johnston to level the score (2-07 to 1-10) at half-time.
But Down were the much sharper side in second half and no better illustrated by James Coyle goal within 40 seconds of the restart, with Johnston again the provider. Conway, Toner and Coyle twice tagged on points in as many minutes and Armagh looked a beaten docket.
Carvill and Coulter landed lovely long-range points but there was no way back for Armagh especially after the introduction of Down's young substitute's Caolan Bailie and Michael Turley who bagged three goals between them.
Bailie's stunning double strike each side of Ryan Gaffney's converted free ended the game as a contest and although McGuinness did bag his second goal for Armagh late in the game it was Down who had the last say with substitute Turley ramming home Down's fifth goal four minutes from time.
ARMAGH: S Doherty, S Renaghan, C Clifford, C Devlin, K McKernan, N Curry, S Gaffney (0-1), J Corvan (0-1), D Coulter (0-2), R Gaffney (0-6, 5f,) C Carvill (0-3), A McGuinness, M Moan (1-0), E McGuinness (2-0), P McKearney (0-1).
Subs: T Nevin for K McKernan 42', B Nicholson for Sheehan 53', P Lappin for S Gaffney 62', O Curry for Clifford 61.
Yellow cards: Curry 27', Clifford 45'.
DOWN: S Keith, S Ennis, C Cassidy, M Hughes, D McManus (0-1), F Conway (1-2), M McCullough, D Hughes, J McManus, S Dineen (0-2), M Nicholson, P Sheehan (0-1), D Toner (0-5), G Johnston (0-6, 4f) and James Coyle (1-2).
Subs: C O'Neill for McCullough 20', C Bailie (2-0) for Nicholson 36', M Turley (1-1) for Coyle 61'
Yellow cards: Johnston 27', Coyle 35', Hughes 52'
Referee: Eamonn Hassan (Derry).