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Deserved derby win as Down prove too good for Armagh

Down 0-15 Armagh 2-7

By Declan Bogue

The football may have been more entertaining than we have seen so far in this year's Ulster Championship, but Down ended their 25-year hex against Armagh by adhering to the fundamentals of what has decided the games so far - they were just far more organised.

And special mention is due for the man who played in midfield that day, Eamonn Burns, who equipped his team with a very specific game plan that left them utterly deserving of victory at a sun-splashed Newry where there was much to admire about the football in front of a 16,168 crowd.

However, when the Central Competitions Control Committee sit down this week, they might have an appetite to tackle a prolonged brawl at the end of this encounter.

Asked if he would be watching The Sunday Game behind the couch with his fingers jammed in his ears for fear of his players picking up suspensions, Burns answered: "I won't watch the Sunday Game tonight, now! You can figure out what that means but I'll not be watching The Sunday Game."

And graciously, he refused to aim fire at some of his critics, present in the flesh, whom he acknowledged, "A lot of them are standing round me!

"It's a derby game, right? Somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose…

"We're delighted. We took the opportunities that presented themselves and I'm delighted for the players."

They ended a run of five straight defeats to their closest rivals on a day that it finally felt like the Ulster Championship had joined us for the summer.

Armagh? Well, Armagh are a mess, and hard to see a way forward for them.

They will start life in 2018 as a Division Three team and under Kieran McGeeney, having found novel ways each year to exit the Ulster Championship.

From the eighth minute they were clinging on, when Down had already ran up four points on the board in a dizzying early spell.

Much responsibility for an Armagh win was resting on the slender shoulders of Jamie Clarke. From the first few balls played into him, Darren O'Hagan won their battle comfortably and it looked like the man who listed 'farming' as his hobby in the match day programme had too much aggression for his opponent.

But, Armagh's first goal came from Clarke's promptings. An Oisin O'Neill free in was fetched and spilled by Andrew Murnin. Clarke lifted the loose ball and gave to Mark Shields facing goal. He ran through two meek challenges to roof the ball in the net. The second owed much to Clarke who ventured out around the scoring zone, created the space for Stefan Campbell to get a sight on goal and while Michael Cunningham parried the first shot, Murnin was on hand to follow up on 22 minutes to take the lead.

A minute of madness gripped everyone a few minutes earlier with a goal opportunity for either side falling to Armagh's debutant Aaron McKay and Connaire Harrison.

And another major chance came the way of Armagh just prior to half-time when a jinking run by Clarke pulled the Down defence out of shape. He worked the ball through Brendan Donaghy and put Murnin in once again and although he struck his shot fiercely, his debutant marker Anthony Doherty got enough of a nick on it to push it on to the post.

Stephen Sheridan struck from long range in first half added time to make it 2-4 to 0-9 at the break to the Orangemen.

It brought to an end a first half that was jam-packed with incident, including two spurned goal chances from either side in the 18th minute.

The second half should have provided something similar, but Armagh only added a single point from play in the 50th minute, with those with a better view in the press box deciding en masse it should have been waved wide.

Substitutions were made, but the timing was puzzling, with Armagh waiting until the 76th minute to send on Ciaran McKeever, who nabbed the odd goal in the National League, at full-forward.

Down pushing up on Blaine Hughes' kickouts spread panic in the defence and Darragh O'Hanlon popped up with two early points in the second half to set the tone.

The men in red and black hunkered into their defensive shape while Armagh laboured around the fringes, deciding from way too early that they needed a goal and undoing their good work by over-elaborating, although Aidan Forker and Anthony Duffy spurned half-chances in front of goal.

More soul-searching required in Armagh, but it was nice to see a Down side with their tails up after so long.

DOWN: M Cunningham 0-1f; A Doherty, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; D O'Hanlon 0-4, 2f, C McGovern, C Mooney 0-2; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn 0-1, S Millar 0-1; J Johnston 0-1f, R Johnston 0-1, C Harrison 0-2

Subs: D McKibbin 0-1 for Donnelly, B O'Hagan 0-1 for Harrison (53), J Murphy for R Johnston (58), A Carr for Turley, M Poland for Maginn (72)

ARMAGH: B Hughes; J Morgan, C Vernon, P Hughes 0-1; A McKay 0-1, B Donaghy, M Shields 1-0; S Sheridan 0-1, J McElroy; A Forker 0-1, O O'Neill, R Grugan; J Clarke 0-1f, S Campbell, A Murnin 1-0

Subs: N Grimley for Vernon (43), A Duffy 0-1 for O'Neill (48), G McParland 0-1f for Grugan, (58), N Rowland for Forker (66), C O'Hanlon for Murnin, C McKeever for Campbell (76)

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

Attendance: 16, 168

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