Clinical Down punish Armagh

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Clinical Down punish Armagh thumbnailMATTHEW Lennon keeps his eyes on goal, as he strides forward for Armagh on Sunday. MGP0803

THE Allianz Hurling League Division 2B opener between Armagh and Down went pretty much as expected with the visitors to the Athletic Grounds heading home with two valuable league points.
Considering John Lennon is only wearing the Armagh manager's bib three weeks and his team are in catch-up mode as regards training and match-play, the Orchard men performed heroically in the first half and the final score is not really reflective of the game as a whole.
The wind played its part in this derby battle with Armagh doing their utmost to clock up scores with the advantage in the opening half, and while they only trailed by two points at the interval it was never going to be enough to stave off the more experienced Mourne men, with the wind at their back, in the second half.
Armagh were without their star forward Declan Coulter, adding to the enormity of their task, and the scoring duty fell to free taker Matthew Lennon who provided all but two of Armagh's scores.
Down were missing Magic Johnson who is suffering from a cruciate ligament injury picked up in the Kehoe Cup semi-final and he will be out for the season. James Coyle was absent for this game through injury, and the long-serving Paul Braniff was also unavailable as he continues to contemplate his future. In the only change to either team sheets Ryan Branagan from Carryduff made his debut in place of Patrick Hughes.
In the absence of such prominent players Down manager Ger Monan was a happy man to win comfortably in the end
and to see scores coming from ten different players, including the subs.
This was a fairly even contest from the start, with nerves jangling on both sides as is often the case in derby encounters. For Down, expectations would be high given the upward trajectory the Christy ring Champions have taken recently in comparison to Armagh who are a work in progress,
Armagh showed no fear however and Conor Corvan almost scored a goal in the opening minutes when Stephen Keith misdirected a short puck out.
The main reason why Armagh weren't in front at half-time was in fact a failure to take their chances, as they put ten balls wide to Down's three, and they conceded a soft goal to add to their woes.
The game was only seven minutes old when Michael Ennis went down with a nasty looking shoulder injury and was replaced by Scott Nicholson - who was a worthy sub playing a great game.
James McGrath opened the scoring for Down a minute later and after another point by the other Down mid-fielder, Donal Hughes, Armagh opened their account with Lennon's first of three frees in the half - the third levelling the sides following a Caolan Baillie point.
Armagh were successful in keeping it tight and refusing to give Down space, particularly the always dangerous Conor Woods but Woods did score next nonetheless with a wonderful 65' into the wind.
Shamrocks man Paul Sheehan pointed his first free and followed that play swiftly with a long high ball delivered into the square, it fell kindly to Scott Nicholson and while the Armagh backs hesitated an instant too long Nicholson had the ball in the back of the net, making it 0-3 to 1-5 on 28 minutes.
Armagh didn't drop their heads though. Stephen Renaghan and Ryan Gaffney in particular battled hard against their opposite numbers. Lennon kept them in the game when he slammed a penalty high into the net with two minutes remaining. Conor Corvan made it a one point game, but he should really have gone for the open goal. It was Steven Dineen though who had the last word for Down and they would have considered themselves lucky to take a 1-4 to 1-6 lead into the interval.
It was never going to be easy for this young Armagh side to get on top of this game in the second half but it was really only in the last 20 minutes that Down pulled away convincingly.
Dineen almost dropped a high ball behind the Armagh keeper, Simon Doherty after five minutes but Doherty did well at full stretch to keep it out.
There was nothing he could do however about the goal by the young Portaferry former Minor player Conor O'Neill, who
slammed the ball in following an excellent build-up by Toner and Dineen.
Conor Corvan responded with a point but the Armagh resolve quickly evaporated thereafter and Down's experience aided by the strong breeze saw them rapidly pull away.
Woods was given a lot more space and his passing was brilliant, particularly when he zoned in on Scott Nicholson who was also given space at right half-forward.
Sheehan had a great game before he made room for Michael Turley. In fact Monan gave all his allotted subs a run out and they scored 1-7 between them.
In the end it was a comprehensive win for Down as Armagh could only muster two more points to Downs 14.
Monan was delighted to get the campaign off to a winning start as they face Wicklow next Sunday, while John Lennon will hope to take the positives from Armagh's first half performance as they take on Fingal in another home tie.

ARMAGH: Simon Doherty, Conor Devlin, Ciaran Clifford, Daniel Mone, Paul Gaffney, Nathan Curry, Stephen Renaghan, Fiachra Bradley, John Corvan, Nathan Green, Ryan Gaffney, Kieran McKernan, Matthew Lennon (1-5 frees), Conor Corvan (0-2) and Odhran Curry. Subs: Pauric Hughes (for N Green 59'), Liam McKee (for O Curry 62'), Michael Garvey (for D Mone 64')
DOWN: Stephen Keith, Ryan Branagan, Paudraig Flynn, Michael Hughes, Brett Nicholson, Conor Woods (0-2, frees), Sean Ennis, Donal Hughes (0-1), James McGrath (0-1), Michael Ennis, Conor O'Neill (1-0), Steven Dineen (0-2), Daniel Toner, Caolan Bailie (0-4) and Paul Sheehan (0-3, 2 from frees). Subs: Scott Nicholson (1-3, for M Ennis 7'), Brendan Coleman (0-3, 2 from frees, for D Toner 43'), Michael Turley (for P Sheehan 48'), Fintan Conway ( 0-1, for J McGrath 55'), Michael McCullagh for S Ennis 62')

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