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Last-gasp Down beat Armagh after battling elements


Armagh's Cairan McKeever moves away from Down's Donal O'Hare in tough conditions at the Athletic Grounds

Armagh's Cairan McKeever moves away from Down's Donal O'Hare in tough conditions at the Athletic Grounds

Armagh's Cairan McKeever moves away from Down's Donal O'Hare in tough conditions at the Athletic Grounds

Armagh 2-5 Down 2-7: Probably the only National League game to be played on a Friday certainly had a novelty feel to it, and there was a novelty result in that Down managed to fashion a win that looked unlikely for long spells here.

In the process they ended a barren league run in the Athletics Ground that had stretched back to October 1985.

The serene setting pre-game soon gave way to buffeting sheets of rain that favoured Armagh in the first half. With their midfield pressuring Shane Harrison's kickout they established a dominance, pushing up a high line with often only three defenders marking their counterparts in the defence.

However, they failed to capitalise on their supremacy. They hit four shots short to Harrison and eight wides in the opening half.

Down had little possession and with the rain driving down their throats and their handling was shoddy as they repeatedly spilled the ball. Aidan Carr was sweeping but found the ball a slippery prospect as he cut out attacks.

As the half wore on Niall Madine and Mark Poland withdrew further into their own half, leaving Ciaran McKeever to impress, after been gifted a role as sweeper.

If Armagh do intend, as manager Paul Grimley has stated, to persist with this total attack style, they need to find the means to get Jamie Clarke more involved in the action. By the 24th minute he had made only two plays but on scooping up a difficult McKeever pass he turned Darren O'Hagan before curling a point over.

A goal arrived shortly after, a flowing movement involving McKeever, Stefan Campbell to Kevin Dyas, before he played a clever one-two with the busy Robbie Tasker to be sent through to crash home from close range. That left the score 1-3 to 0-1.

A drive forward from Kevin McKernan resulted in a point drilled over and Donal O'Hare capitalised on a sloppy foul to leave three points in at the break.

Down were on level terms two minutes into the second half when Mark Poland pounced on a McEvoy save from Jerome Johnstone and they went ahead with a point from McKernan.

Armagh benefited from a fortunate goal when a Kernan delivery into the square bounced past Harrison and into the net, substitute Stefan Forker providing enough of a distraction. They made life hard for themselves when Tasker was given a straight red for an off-the-ball incident.

When first Aidan Carr, then Brendan McArdle were dispossessed, it led to Stefan Campbell's cooly-taken point.

One last throw of the dice ended up with Madine laying off to Poland, who slid home to grab the lead in injury time.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, P Hughes; M Shields, C McKeever (Capt), C Rafferty 0-1; S Harold, E Rafferty; B Mallon, K Dyas 1-0, T Kernan 1-1, 1f; J Clarke 0-1, S Campbell 0-1, R Tasker 0-1. Subs: S Forker for Mallon (47m) Grugan for C Rafferty (56m), N McConville for Clarke (70m), A Findon for Harold (74m). Yellow cards: Clarke (49m), C Rafferty (50m).. Red cards: Tasker (58m)

DOWN: S Harrison; D McCartan, P Turley, D O'Hagan; R Boyle, A Carr, C Garvey; K McKernan 0-2, R Mallon; B McArdle, M Poland (Capt) 2-0, J Johnston; D O'Hare 0-2, 2f, N Madine 0-1, C Maginn 0-1. Subs: D O'Hanlon for McCartan (52m), E McCartan 0-1 for Boyle (68m), B Coulter for Madine (74). Yellow cards: Johnstone (18m), Poland (62m). Black cards: Mallon - replaced by R Johnstone (48m).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)

Belfast Telegraph