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Strong second-half shows see Monaghan and Armagh through

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Armagh players, from left, Joe McElroy, Rory Grugan and Mark Shields celebrate victory Kildare at Croke Park last night. Photo: Sportsfile

Armagh players, from left, Joe McElroy, Rory Grugan and Mark Shields celebrate victory Kildare at Croke Park last night. Photo: Sportsfile

Armagh players, from left, Joe McElroy, Rory Grugan and Mark Shields celebrate victory Kildare at Croke Park last night. Photo: Sportsfile

An open draw, which will take place on RTE radio at 3.40 this afternoon, will decide the final two All-Ireland quarter-final pairings after Armagh and Monaghan won their qualifier matches in Croke Park last night.

All-Ireland champions Dublin and Ulster winners Tyrone were left waiting to know their opponents on Saturday next when Armagh caused the surprise of the night with a three-point win over favourites Kildare.

Two divisions will separate the counties in next year's National League, but unfancied Armagh came through by holding their nerve in a tense finish, winning 1-17 to 0-17. It was their fourth successive qualifier win, with Kieran McGeeney celebrating a sweet victory over the county he managed up to 2013 when ousted in a county board vote.

Armagh were the more buoyant side in the early stages, settling faster and leading 0-6 to 0-3 after 20 minutes. Kildare responded with four scores to lead but a Stefan Campbell point levelled the sides and then Armagh goaled when Andrew Murnin's shot spun off Mick O'Grady and went into the net four minutes from half time. Niall Kelly kicked the first half's last score, with Armagh leading 1-8 to 0-8 at the interval.

The second half was a gripping, swaying affair. Fergal Conway had Kildare back in front in the 53rd minute, but twice Armagh pegged them back and then went in front themselves, Brendan Donaghy opening a two-point lead entering the final ten minutes. Kildare reduced the margin with a Kevin Feely free but then Feely missed one of the easiest he had to take all evening and in the next attack Ethan Rafferty hit a huge score with four minutes left.

Monaghan had earlier defeated Down who had beaten them in the Ulster semi-finals six weeks earlier. Before a crowd of 38,900 Monaghan put in a strong second half performance, winning 1-24 to 1-16. The sides were level at 1-9 a piece at half time but Monaghan pulled clear with five unanswered points by the 50th minute mark and held Down at a safe distance from there.

Conor McManus hit 0-10, eight of those from frees, and Conor McCarthy made a strong claim for a starting place in next Saturday's quarter-finals with four points after coming on ten minutes into the second half. Jack McCarron also didn't start but came off the bench to kick two more scores. Their victory was only their second in Croke Park in a championship match since 1930.

Down caused them problems in the first half, with Connaire Harrison scoring 1-3 from six possessions, despite having the close attentions of the Wylie brothers, Drew and Ryan, to contend with. Harrison scored a late first half goal, to cancel out an earlier strike by Monaghan defender Fintan Kelly.

But Monaghan began to dominate around the middle field after the break, putting the Down kick-out under pressure, and the substitutions eventually told. "We were fairly thankful for that but we knew we had to up it in the second half and thankfully we did," said their manager Malachy O'Rourke. "We were better defensively in the second half and then going forward we opened them up a bit more and came through by a comfortable margin in the end."

He admitted they would need to step up a gear from here. "We haven't much time to prepare, we've a week, but we do feel we haven't hit our peak form yet. We feel there's more quality there than we're showing at the minute but we're also under no illusions that next week will be a very tough game and we have to be up to speed."

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Down manager Eamonn Burns spoke of the "huge distance" his team has travelled in a year. "As I said many times, losing a huge amount of your players from the year before, especially the senior players, the boys who have been there before it is very difficult to replace experienced men. A lot of them have stepped up. We have brought in three, four five players onto the panel we haven't used. Going forward I think it is very positive for Down."


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