Coulter sets tone for magnificent Mourne men
table-toppers Down preserved their unbeaten league record with an impressive win over near neighbours Armagh in Pairc Esler, Newry on Saturday night.
A goal from Benny Coulter inside the opening minute had Armagh on the back foot from the off and Down pulverised the Armagh defence to lead 1-5 to 0-0 after just eight minutes.
In a game of high-class football, Down, despite starting without injured star forward Paul McComiskey, were further handicapped after 20 minutes when ex Aussie Rules player Martin Clarke went off injured. Without their two recognised free-takers, the onus then fell on Coulter, Ambrose Rogers and Mark Poland, who responded superbly.
Armagh's fightback began when Stefan Forker was fouled in the 11th minute with Steven McDonnell sending to the net from the penalty spot. Armagh had the better of the exchanges for the next 15 minutes with McDonnell, Finian Moriarty, Gareth Swift and McDonnell again sending over points.
However, their march was halted two minutes from half-time when Finian Moriarty received a red card as Down, with a Danny Hughes point, led by 1-7 to 1-4 at the break.
Down continued to dominate the second half against the depleted Armagh side.
Although McDonnell had an Armagh point within a minute of the restart, they were on the receiving end after that. Mark Poland, Ambrose Rogers, John Clarke, Mark Poland and sub Conor Maginn all pointed for Down who ran out convincing winners.
In a strong Down half-back line, Kevin McKernan, James Colgan and Conor Garvey were outstanding while Ambrose Rogers dominated midfield. Up front, Coulter, Mark Poland and Danny Hughes were most impressive.
Armagh's defence struggled throughout to contain the power and pace of the Down attack but their best defensive work came from Brendan Donaghy, Paul Duffy and Paul Kernan with Kieran Toner working hard at midfield. The attack was well held with only McDonnell, Gareth Swift and Aaron Kernan troubling Down's defence.
SCORERS -- Down: B Coulter 1-1, A Rogers, M Poland 0-3 each, M Clarke (1f), J Clarke (1f) 0-2 each, D Hughes, C Maginn 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 1-3 (1-0 pen, 1f), S Moriarty, G Swift, J Feeney 0-1 each.
Down -- D Alder; D McCartan, B McArdle, D Rafferty; K McKernan, J Colgan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Clarke, S Kearney; M Poland, J Clarke, B Coulter. Subs: C. Maginn for M Clarke (21), C Laverty for J Clarke (48), A Brannigan for K McKernan (60), J McGovern for S Kearney (67), R Murtagh for M Poland (67).
Armagh -- P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; P Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; R Austin, K Toner; J Feeney, A Kernan, G Swift; R Henderson, S McDonnell, S Forker. Subs: C Vernon for R Henderson (18), M Mackin for S Forker (h-t), M Ferris for C McKeever (40), M McNamee for R Austin (56), T Kernan for J Feeney (60).
Ref -- M Sludden (Tyrone).