Armagh fail to dent Down's unbeaten run
Down 0-12 Armagh 0-11
This may have been just a bout of shadow boxing ahead of the big Ulster Championship meeting between Down and Armagh on May 28, but the psychological edge lies with the Mourne men following an important NFL Division 1 win.
Their first season back in the top division has been an unqualified success to date, five points from a possible six their reward for an unbeaten start to the campaign. Armagh, with just one victory to date, will have to start looking over their shoulders and plan for a scrap to hold on to their premier status.
Down were quick to impose themselves on the game, Conor Laverty and Danny Hughes steering over early points, but Armagh were level by the sixth minute, centre back Ciaran McKeever and Charlie Vernon hitting the target.
Brian Mallon and Steven McDonnell scored at the other end, but Down hit another productive patch at the beginning of the second quarter. Martin Clarke launched a superb point from far out on the left wing, and there were scores from Hughes and Mark Poland as they moved three points clear. It could have been more, but for the hard work and steel displayed by Armagh half-backs McKeever and Kevin Dyas.
Mistakes began to creep into the Down approach close to half-time, allowing McDonnell to hoist a memorable score, and Rory Grugan to convert a free. But the Mourne men led by 0-8 to 0-6 at the break after centre-back Kevin McKernan had surged through for a trademark score. Armagh, now with the wind in their backs, were ahead within four minutes of the restart, Dyas and McDonnell making it 0-8 apiece, before Grugan slotted a free.
Having earlier cleared off his own line, Moriarty was the unlikely man to find himself with Armagh's best goal chance. Micheal O'Rourke picked out McDonnell, whose perfectly timed pass sent the corner-back clear. But Cathal Murdock pulled off an excellent save.
Soon afterwards, McDonnell himself had a crack at goal, but his effort was expertly blocked by Dan Gordon. Moments later came another Down goal chance, but midfielder Peter Fitzpatrick punched Gerald McCartan's cross wide of a gaping net.
It took Down 17 minutes to register their first score of the half, Conor Maginn racing through unopposed to score.
Armagh, with Kieran Toner and Vernon on top at midfield, stifled their opponents, but shot a rash of wides, and Down went back in front 10 minutes from the end through Ronan Murtagh. That score galvanised the home side, and a raft of substitutions freshened up their offensive effort.
Clarke slotted over a free, and was at the heart of the move that ended with Murtagh curling over his second score for a three-point lead. Hughes was still buzzing, and had the winning of the game in his grasp when sent clear by Peter Fitzpatrick, but keeper McEvoy pulled off a blinding save.
Once again, a relieved Armagh rallied, and they showed tremendous resolve to get themselves back in contention, sub John Murtagh and Vernon both kicking points while under pressure.
Scorers -- Down: M Clarke 0-3 (2f), M Poland (f), D Hughes, R Murtagh 0-2 each, K McKernan, C Maginn, C Laverty 0-1 each.
Armagh: S McDonnell 0-3 (2f), C Vernon, R Grugan (2f) 0-2 each, K Dyas, C McKeever, B Mallon, J Murtagh 0-1 each.
Down: B McVeigh, G McCartan, L Howard, A Brannigan, K McKernan, D Rooney, P Fitzpatrick, K King, D Hughes, M Poland, C Maginn, C Laverty, R Murtagh, M Clarke.
Subs: C Murdock for McVeigh, J Colgan for King, P McComiskey for Laverty, C Garvey for Brannigan, R Sexton for Poland
Armagh: P McEvoy, A Mallon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty, K Dyas, C McKeever, P Duffy, K Toner, C Vernon, R Grugan, M O'Rourke, B Mallon, BJ Padden, G Swift, S McDonnell. Subs: J Lavery for Padden, J Murtagh for O'Rourke, C Watters for B Mallon, C Clarke for Grugan
Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan).
Sunday Indo Sport