Hurling: Armagh can write final chapter
Down 1-10 Armagh 0-14: Armagh pulled off a giant-killing act at rain-lashed Casement Park yesterday with a shock one-point victory over Down in the Ulster SHC semi-final to book their place against Antrim in the decider.
The win was thoroughly deserved as the Orchard County boys fought back in the closing stages to rifle over three injury time points when all seemed lost, centre-forward Ryan Gaffney snatching the winner.
Down went into the game as firm favourites but Armagh never allowed the Mourne men to settle on the ball. The winners' defence hassled and harried the opposition while the forward always looked dangerous.
In hotshot Gaffney they had a marksman par excellence as his winner brought his personal tally to eight points, six of them from placed balls.
Down’s challenge was seriously weakened by the loss of centre-back Conor Woods and centre-forward Paul Braniff to second half injuries but from the start, Armagh had sent out signals that they were prepared to deliver a shock.
They led on four occasions during the opening 35 minutes and there was never more than one point between the teams.
The hurling was not out of the top drawer, understandably in the horrid conditions but Armagh led 0-8 to 0-7 in the 40th minute when the game took a rare turn.
In another storming Armagh attack, Cathal Carvill gathered the sliothar close to goals but he was held in the 'square' with Derry referee Eamon Hasson immediately pointing to the penalty spot.
Up stepped Conor Corvan but his strike flew wide and within 60 seconds, at the other end, ‘Magic' Johnson fired into the net as he latched on to a long distance free from Paul Braniff.
As the game entered injury time Gaffney narrowed the gap, from a free, to the minimum at 1-10 to 0-12 before former Down player Ruairi McGrattan lofted over a long distance free to level the argument.
The stage was set for Gaffney to pop up and fire over the dramatic winner.
ARMAGH: S Doherty; B Mallon, C Clifford, JJ Hughes, B McCormack, R McGrattan (0-3, a '65, 2f), N Curry, K McKernan (0-1), J Corvan, C Carville, R Gaffney (0-8, 6f), M Lennon (0-1), C Corvan (0-1), F Woods, M Moen. Subs: D Carvill for Woods (50). DOWN: Graham Clarke; M Hughes, C Coulter, S Ennis, K McGarry (0-1), C Woods, M Ennis (0-1); A Savage, E Clarke (0-2), S Nicholson, P Braniff (0-3, 2f), S Clarke, B Ennis, G Johnston (1-2, 2f), J Coyle (0-1). Subs: Gabriel Clarke for Woods, inj (36), A Clarke for Braniff (49), S Hughes for Nicholson (60).
Referee: E Hasson (Derry).