Mourne rising bears fruit as Orchard are left in a mess
Down 0-15 Armagh 2-7
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 for the man who played in midfield that day, Eamonn Burns, who now as manager equipped his team with a very specific gameplan that left them utterly deserving of victory at a sun-splashed Newry where there was much to admire about football in front of a 16,168 crowd.
When the Central Competitions Control Committee sit down this week, they will have a full dance card. Aside from the deliberations on Diarmuid Connolly, they might also have an appetite to tackle a prolonged brawl at the end of this one.
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 ... and when we had to defend, we defended really, really well and really hard and really disciplined, 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. And they put to bed that horrendous day last year when they shipped their heaviest-ever defeat (19 points) in the Ulster Championship to Monaghan.
Armagh? Well, Armagh are a mess. They will start life in 2018 as a Division Three team and under Kieran McGeeney, have 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.
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 and it looked like the man who listed "farming" as his hobby in the matchday programme had too much aggression for the fashionista.
But, Armagh's first goal came from Clarke's promptings. An Oisín 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 the lead.
A minute of madness gripped everyone a little 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 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 onto 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 Orchard, bringing to an end a first half that was jam-packed with incident.
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 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.
Scorers - Down: D O'Hanlon 0-4 (2f); C Mooney, Harrison 0-2 each; C Maginn, S Millar, J Johnston (f), R Johnston, D McKibbin, B O'Hagan, M Cunningham (f) 0-1 each. Armagh: M Shields, A Murnin 1-0 each, P Hughes, A McKay, S Sheridan, A Forker, J Clarke (f), A Duffy, G McParland (f )
Down - M Cunningham 6; A Doherty 6, G McGovern 7, D O'Hagan 7; D O'Hanlon 7, C McGovern 7, C Mooney 8; P Turley 7, N Donnelly 7; K McKernan 7, C Maginn 6, S Millar 7; J Johnston 6, R Johnston 7, C Harrison 7. Subs: D McKibbin 6 for Donnelly, B O'Hagan 6 for Harrison (53), J Murphy 6 for R Johnston (58), A Carr 6 for Turley, M Poland 6 for Maginn (72), N McParland 6 for Doherty (56, bc).
Armagh - B Hughes 7; J Morgan 7, C Vernon 6, P Hughes 6; A McKay 7, B Donaghy 6, M Shields 8; S Sheridan 7, J McElroy 7; A Forker 6, O O'Neill5 , R Grugan 5; J Clarke 6, S Campbell 6, A Murnin 7. Subs: N Grimley 7 for Vernon (43), A Duffy 5 for O'Neill (48), G McParland 5 for Grugan, (58), N Rowland 5 for Forker (66), C O'Hanlon for Murnin, C McKeever for Campbell (76).
Ref - C Lane (Cork).
Game at a glance
Man of the match: Darragh O’Hanlon (Down) .Scored two points at the verystart of the second half that wrestled back the lead for Down, getting involved in a physical confrontation straight after to set the tone. Other notable contributions came from the busy Shay Millar at wing-forward who put in an incredible shift, while on the Armagh side, Jamie Clarke showed glimpses of genius while surviving on scraps of possession.
Talking point: Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney was banned from the sidelines for 12 weeks. We were told he was not allowed to be in communication with hisstand-in manager John Toal. Would his presence along the line have helped? We will never know.
Magic moment: Jamie Clarke (Armagh): Just before the stroke of half-time, Jamie Clarke dropped deep to get the ball and with his head up, created a goal chance out of nothing by dropping the shoulder and skipping past Darren O’Hagan.
Ref watch: Conor Lane (Cork): Armagh’s Joe McElroy pulled down Jerome Johnston on 15 minutes in a clear black-card offence, but Conor Lane let him off. Then he showed McElroy a second yellow card at the end of the match, although he hadn’t been booked.
Match statistics: Wides: Down 5 (1 in first half), Armagh 11 (5). Frees: Down 22 (13), Armagh 20 (8). Yellow cards: Down 4 (O’Hanlon 41, Maginn 67, B O’Hagan, McParland 82), Armagh 5 (Murnin 47, Grimley 70, Rowland 71, Sheridan, McElroy 82). Black cards: Down 2 (Doherty 56, replaced by N McParland), Armagh 0
What’s next?: Down now face the winners of next weekend’s Ulster quarter-final between Cavan and Monaghan in Kingspan Breffni Park, while Armagh turn their lonely gaze, once again, to a qualifier campaign, where they will enter the B side of the draw, made on Tuesday morning.