Murnin hands Armagh Ulster respite
Armagh 2-17 Down 3-13
Plenty of options to start this summation off but Andrew Murnin surely offers the best.
He hadn’t kicked a ball for Armagh since last year’s qualifier loss to Roscommon, rehabilitating a knee injury during the league.
Armagh assistant manager Jim McCorry admitted afterwards that they had him in mind for their next game, which swayed between an Ulster semi-final with Cavan in two weeks time or a first-round qualifier a week later, for so long here. Murnin’s intervention for the second period of extra-time dictated it would be the former as ultimately it was the most important passage of play.
Over the course of 100-plus minutes, when added time and extra-time are factored in, Armagh won the game, looked like they had lost it before winning it again and almost losing it again!
But it was Murnin’s sleight of hand midway through that second period that really sealed it as he adjusted his feet brilliantly to meet Rian O’Neill’s inviting delivery to direct it with his hand into the top corner, leaving Down replacement goalkeeper Mark Hynes stranded and mesmerising most of the 15,112 crowd.
“How often do you flick a ball from 14 metres and see it go into the top corner,” mused a bewildered Down manager Paddy Tally afterwards.
Just two minutes earlier he had scored a point, swooping to meet Charlie Vernon’s delivery before turning sharply and effectively. That double cameo, yielding 1-1, put Armagh three points (2-16 to 1-16) clear and should have ensured a safe passage on the home stretch, especially when O’Neill, a towering figure at the pinnacle of the Armagh attack on his debut scoring 0-8, landed his last point for a four-point lead.
But the nature of this game was that there was always likely to be a twist and when another speculative delivery, this time from Down substitute Paul Devlin, slipped through Jarly óg Burns, such a forceful runner from midfield all day, for a late goal, the squeeze came on Armagh again. This time they held their nerve to secure a first win in the Ulster Championship since beating Cavan in 2014.
That was, of course, the other strong plot line as Kieran McGeeney, in his fifth year as manager, sought his first provincial victory. His team made him work hard for it and Jim McCorry, stepping in for media duties afterwards, admitted it was a relief.
“Rory Grugan talked about the monkey off the back. People talk about the win for the county, for themselves and for Kieran because he has put so much work in over the last number of years but the bottom line is we just needed to get a win and move forward,”
For Down, the central theme will be the loss of Caolan Mooney to a red card just before half-time.
They performed admirably – it looked like the type of head-high challenge on Aidan Nugent which the GAA are keen that referees crack down on – but the loss of his pace was still sorely felt.
“For me, it was a massively big call to make at that stage. It wasn’t a good tackle, I understand that. Caolan will be disappointed in the way he slipped into it but I think there will be a lot of things similar,” said Tally.
Having taken a lead through Pat Havern’s flicked goal from Gerard Collins’ delivery on 22 minutes that gave them a 1-5 to 0-7 interval cushion, they were now under pressure.
Armagh hit a nice purple patch midway through the second half when scoring 1-3 to go five clear, the goal coming from substitute Mark Shields. In between Down lost goalkeeper Rory Burns to a black card for taking down Jemar Hall.
The bench played a big part in reviving both teams, from Shields’ goal to James Morgan, Murnin and Stefan Campbell finding their range for Armagh to Down’s Cory Quinn setting up Donal O’Hare for that late goal in normal time, followed up by Delvin and James Guinness points to take the game to extra-time.
Scorers – Armagh: R O’Neill 0-8 (4fs); A Murnin 1-1; M Shields 1-0; R Kennedy, J Clarke, S Campbell 0-2 each; A Nugent, J Morgan 0-1 each. Down: D O’Hare (2fs), P Devlin (2fs) 1-2 each; P Havern 1-1; J Guinness, R Johnston (1f) 0-2 each; B O’Hagan, C Francis, C Harrison, C Poland 0-1 each.
Armagh – B Hughes 6; P Burns, A McKay 6, R Kennedy 7; A Forker 7, B Donaghy 7, P Hughes 5; C Vernon 6, J óg Burns 8; J Hall 6, R Grugan 6, A Nugent 6; J Clarke 7, R O’Neill 9, E Rafferty 5. Subs: J Morgan 7 for P Burns (inj 7), M Shields 8 for Vernon (30), J McElroy 6 for P Hughes (44), S Campbell 7 for Rafferty (46), S Sheridan 6 for Kennedy (65), G McCabe 6 for Hall (BC 67), R Kennedy and C Vernon replaced Nugent and Forker for extra-time, B Crealey 7 for Sheridan inj (76), A Murnin 8 for McCabe (h-t, e-t), E Rafferty for Grugan (87).
Down – R Burns 7; D Guinness 6, R Wells 5, G Collins 6; K McKernan 7, D O’Hagan 8, R McAleenan 6; C Mooney 7, C Poland 6; C Francis 7, C Maginn 5, P Havern 7; J Johnston 7, C Harrison 6, D O’Hare 7. Subs: J Guinness 7 for Wells (25), B O’Hagan 7 for Maginn (48), M Hynes 5 for Burns (BC 51), C Quinn 6 for Havern (61), P Devlin 7 for Johnston (61), O McCabe 7 for Poland (67), R Mallon 5 came on for extra-time to restore Down to 15, C Francis for J Guinness (83), P Havern for Mallon (86), J Johnston for O’Hare (89).
Ref – A Nolan (Wicklow)