Down rain supreme in wind-swept derby
Tuesday, 11 February 2014
DOWN manager James McCartan was delighted to have finally shaken the monkey off his back after Mark Poland's additional time goal secured victory over rivals Armagh on Friday night.
Played in horrid conditions with ice cold rain hammering down and bruising unpredictable gales swirling around the Athletic Grounds it was an achievement by both teams to simply attempt to play football.
It was a typical derby encounter where both sides gave everything and lay their bodies on the line, and while Armagh may lick their wounds in what Down boss James McCartan described as a cruel way to lose, Down displayed a clinical cutting edge which ultimately won the game.
In the first half Armagh kicked eight wides, dropped three balls short into Shane Harrison's arms and racked up a score of 1-3 and with 30 minutes gone led 1-3 to 0-1, which was Down's only effort on target. But within three minutes of the second half Down were level.
Kevin McKernan, Mark Poland and Jerome Johnston were excellent and when they ran at the Armagh defence they caused problems.
Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever also had an outstanding game and won the Man of the Match award.
When Down needed their players to step up, captain Poland and McKernan delivered and while the game was far from pretty it was a battle the Mourne men needed to win according to their manager.
“Armagh have won the important games over recent years but we have managed to beat Armagh in the Athletic Grounds, so that is another wee monkey off our back, so I am delighted," said McCartan.
“But at the end of the day it is only two National League points and we have a three week break but we have a couple of lads involved in the Sigerson so we will keep our eye on that and prepare for the Louth game.
“I felt that we shaded it and even though Armagh were gutsy and strong I felt that we probably didn't deserve to lose even though it looked like we were going to lose.
“I am delighted to sneak away with the win but to counteract that it was a bit hard on Armagh."
The Orchard County boss was understandably disappointed and he wasn't prepared to take positives from the messy encounter.
“Performances are grand but we are here to win matches and all we have is a hallow victory.
“We need points on the board and we had the opportunity to put two on the board for us and we failed, we failed miserably in the last few minutes of the game. It has happened us before and we will move on."
In front off just under 6000 in the Athletic Grounds, conditions were far from ideal for what was the first Friday night National League fixture.
Ciaran Rafferty and Tony Kernan (free) gave Armagh and early lead and Donal O' Hare replied with a converted free for Down.
The Orchard County had squandered numerous scoring chances before Jamie Clarke struck over a beauty and Dromintee's Kevin Dyas rattled in a great goal after Stefan Campbell made a surging run forward.
However, Armagh failed to extend their lead, which came back to haunt them as Donal O'Hare and Kevin McKernan pulled back points to reduce the margin to only three points at the break.
The Mourne men got off to a wonderful start in the second half with captain Poland bagging an early goal and Conor Maginn fisted over to give Down the lead for the first time with only 39 minutes played.
Robbie Tasker had a great chance to bag a goal but the lively forward blazed his effort over the bar.
Kevin McKernan sailed over a magnificent long-range effort to extend Down's lead and Niall Madine also grabbed a point.
However, Armagh were fortunate when Tony Kernan's long ball into the square deceived the Down defence and ended up in the net.
Armagh's tails were up but then Tasker received a red card for an off the ball incident.
The cards were a lottery with black card offences not being punished but yellow cards used instead.
Stefan Campbell floated over a point and with time almost up Armagh were looking good for victory.
But Down substitute Eion McCartan fisted over a point before Poland delivered a clever knock-out goal for the Mourne men and there was no way back for Armagh.
And the Armagh boss Paul Grimley was shocked with the manner of defeat.
“I thought with two or three minutes to go we had the points in the bag but we have to learn - our concentration levels weren't up to where they should have been at the end. And whether the goal was fortunate or not is immaterial. We switched off for those few minutes and were punished for it," said Grimley.
“We had four or five goal chances but that is all they were, they were chances and they weren't put away and we will have to look at that."
Meanwhile the bragging rights and league points firmly belong to Down, Wee James admitted he isn't one to get carried away on beating the auld enemy.
“I probably don't have the chip on my shoulder a lot of people do about the Down v Armagh rivalry," he said.
“I was born in Armagh, I represented Armagh in swimming and boxing and other things and I spent a lot of my youth in Lurgan.
“So while it is always nice to win a match I don't have that inbuilt competitiveness, as Armagh is the same as every other county to me."
Armagh: P McEvoy, A Mallon, C Vernon, P Hughes, M Shields, C McKeever, C Rafferty, S Harold, E Rafferty, B Mallon, K Dyas, T Kernan, J Clarke, S Campbell and R Tasker.
Down: S Harrison, D McCartan, P Turley, D O'Hagan, R Boyle, A Carr, C Garvey, K McKernan, R Mallon, D O'Hanlon, M Poland, J Johnston, D O'Hare, N Madine and C Maginn.
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