DOWN 0-15 ARMAGH 2-7
Down comfortably contained the much-vaunted Armagh attack in front of 16,168 spectators in Páirc Esler to win a first Ulster championship match in four years.
Eamonn Burns’ side weren’t fancied coming into the fixture and nursing a few injuries but they controlled most of the game with a new improved work-rate and organisation to sink Armagh.
Orchard boss Kieran McGeeney was serving a 12-week touchline ban and could only watch from a distance as his forwards bombed in Newry (Andrew Murnin and Jamie Clarke apart) with five of them replaced before the end.
In contrast, Down had success stories all over the pitch with 10 different scorers.
Two first-half goals had Armagh leading 2-4 to 0-9 at half time but Down scored seven out of eight points either side of half time and totally bossed the second half.
The second half could never live up to the excitement of the first, though it did bizarrely last 48 minutes after a scuffle near the end and a flurry of yellow and black cards.
The first half was end to end and Down, starting their Ulster championship campaign at home in Newry for the first time in 18 years, got off to a flier with the opening four points inside nine minutes.
Caolan Mooney and Ryan Johnston, a late inclusion in the starting team, put them two up before long-range frees from ‘keeper Michael Cunningham and Jerome Johnston.
Both sides were in trouble under the long ball and Armagh started poorly until they were thrown a lifeline through Mark Shields’ goal after 13 minutes.
Oisin O’Neill’s high ball was caught and dropped by Murnin, and Shields burrowed through into the square to blast home from close range.
Aaron McKay tagged on a point, before moving into fullback to mark Connaire Harrison to release under-pressure Charlie Vernon to midfield.
Harrison cleaned Vernon on a couple of occasions, pulling the trigger to score what seemed a certain goal only for Armagh ‘keeper Blaine Hughes to somehow block it. Harrison scored a point soon after to make it 0-6 to 1-1 in favour of Down.
Murnin then grabbed Armagh’s second goal in the 22nd minute. Stefan Campbell’s initial shot was saved by Cunningham and Murnin jinked inside before squeezing a shot inside the near post.
That put Armagh in the lead for the first time and Aidan Forker and Paul Hughes followed it up with points to put Down three clear.
The tempo of the game and number of chances at both ends made it great to watch and Down scored three in a row from Darragh O’Hanlon, Harrison and Shay Millar.
Murnin almost scored a second goal. Jamie Clarke’s superb jinking run deserved a green flag at the end of it, but Murnin’s shot across goal was somehow deflected onto the far post by Down rookie Anthony Doherty.
Stephen Sheridan’s long range effort was the last action of a breathless first half and nudged Armagh into a 2-4 to 0-9 interval lead.
Down picked up where they’d left off with the first four points of the second half, meaning they scored seven out of eight points either side of half time.
O’Hanlon scored from a free and then from play wide on the wing before Mooney popped up with his second of the game with a fine curling effort.
Conor Maginn fisted over to put the home side 0-13 to 2-4 ahead after 47 minutes.
Armagh sub Anto Dufy relieved some of the pressure with a dubious point that looked to have drifted wide of the near post.
The second half never caught fire after a gripping opening period. Armagh’s subs made little impact while Down’s changes added value with David McKibbin and Barry O’Hagan chipping over points in the last quarter.
Armagh only managed three points in the second half and the last of them, Jamie Clarke’s solitary score from a free, came in the 82nd minute.
Darragh O’Hanlon 0-4 (2f), Caolan Mooney, Connaire Harrison 0-2 each, Conor Maginn, Shay Millar, Ryan Johnston, Barry O’Hagan, David McKibbin 0-1 each, Jerome Johnston, Michael Cunninghan 0-1 (f) each
Andrew Murnin 1-0, Mark Shields 1-0, Aaron McKay 0-1, Aidan Forker 0-1, Paul Hughes 0-1, Stephen Sheridan 0-1, Anthony Duffy 0-1, Gavin McParland 0-1 (f), Jamie Clarke 0-1 (f)
DOWN: Michael Cunningham; Anthony Doherty, Gerard McGovern, Darren O’Hagan; Darragh O’Hanlon, Conaill McGovern, Caolan Mooney; Kevin McKernan, Niall Donnelly, Peter Turley, Conor Maginn, Shay Millar; Jerome Johnston, Connaire Harrison, Ryan Johnston. Subs: David McKibbin for Donnelly (53), Barru O’Hagan for Harrison (53), Niall McParland for Doherty (BC, 56), Joe Murphy for Ryan Johnston (58), Aidan Carr for Turley (70), Mark Poland for Maginn (70)
ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; James Morgan, Charlie Vernon, Paul Hughes; Aaron McKay, Brendan Donaghy, Mark Shields; Stephen Sheridan, J McElroy; Aidan Forker, Oisin O’Neill, Rory Grugan; Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell, Andrew Murnin. Niall Grimley for Vernon (43), Anto Duffy for O’Neill (48), Gavin McParland for Grugan (58), Niall Rowland for Forker (65), Ciaran McKeever for Campbell (76), Ciaran O’Hanlon for Murnin (76)
REFEREE: Conor Lane (Cork)
Credit: GAA.ie/Orla Bannon