Down stay up to send Armagh down
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Down 5-24. Armagh 2-15.
DOWN hurlers were in blistering scoring form as they bundled traditional rivals Armagh through the trapdoor into the Nicky Rackard Cup next season.
It was a comprehensive Mourne performance and one that was long overdue, especially when considering the team's displays this year compared with last. Then they won the Christy Ring Cup but this season, along with Armagh, they found themselves battling against the drop.
Armagh are definitely down after this defeat but Down still have to play the Nicky Rackard Cup winners (Tyrone or Fingal) on June 21 to ensure they stay in the higher division.
Yet on Saturday afternoon at Pairc Esler, the home side put their early season's woes behind them as they easily defeated the Orchard men with a massive 18-point margin.
And indeed this convincing victory will give the Mournemen lots of confidence.
Down manager Gerard Monan was pleased with his side as he said: "I suppose after the highs of last year it's a wee bit hard to motivate the players. We have had a disappointing season what with injuries and such and the panel has been cut back a bit. But today we played really well and with a lot of pride."
The home side got off to a scorching start and after six minutes had totted up 1-02 to nil. James Coyle opened the scoring with a free and then on five minutes, the excellent Johnny McCusker beat the Armagh keeper Simon Doherty to a loose ball before firing into the vacant Orchard net from a tight angle.
Donal Hughes added another Down point but the visitors replied with three scores in a row, two from Declan Coulter and the other from Ryan Gaffney.
However, Monan's men quickly resumed control of the match and on 12 minutes grabbed another fine goal, this time the robust McCusker cutting in from the left, touchline, in the process shrugging off a thundering Armagh tackle, before finding the back of the net with a rocket-like drive.
Armagh, to their credit, kept battling away, with their midfield pairing of Craobh Rua's Fiachra Bradley and Paul Gaffney working like Trojans. And before the break John Lennon's lads had tacked on another nine points, these coming from the accurate Coulter (four), Corvan (2), Gaffney, Odhran Curry and Artie McGuinness.
But Down were even busier and served up a super first half scoring fest of four goals and 11 points. The third goal came from James Coyle with a cool finish on 25 minutes while two minutes later Michael Turley caught a great Brett Nicholas long ball, turned past his marker and finished decisively.
With Down 12 points to the good at the break, the second 35 minutes was always going to be an anti-climax. And so it proved.
Armagh pointed on 36 minutes but Down replied with four unanswered scores - from Coyle (2), Turley and Nicholas.
Then came a wee purple patch for the Orchard men as they grabbed two goals in the space of three minutes. Eoin McGuinness was in the right spot on 46 minutes to net from close range while John Corvan fired home a second major score on 49 minutes.
And when Cathal Carville and the sure-footed Coulter added another two points before the hour mark to reduce the gap to seven points, the Armagh fans must have been hopeful. But it just wasn't to be and that Coulter point on 59 minutes was to be their last score of the match.
Meanwhile in the final 10 minutes Down were rampant, hitting a goal and eight points without reply. And it could even have been more as Down substitute Malachy Magee, who had netted superbly on 69 minutes, was denied another magical score in injury-time by a wonder save from the Armagh keeper Simon Doherty who somehow managed to flick his fierce drive over the bar.
In those final minutes Scott Nicholas pointed a further four times with the other scores coming from Conor O'Prey (2) and Donal Hughes.
Down: Stephen Keith, Patrick Hughes, Paudie Flynn, Michael Hughes, Brett Nicholas (0-1), Conor Woods (0-1), Matthew Conlon, Sean Ennis, Donal Hughes (0-3), Scott Nicholas (0-4), Michael Ennis (0-4), Conor O'Prey (0-2), Michael Turley (1-02), Johnny McCusker (2-1) and James Coyle (1-05) with subs: Cormac Hughes (for Conlon) and Malachy Magee (1-01: for McCusker).
Armagh: Simon Doherty, Conor Devlin, Ciaran Clifford, Michael Garvey, Stephen Renaghan, Cathal Carville (0-1), Conor McAnallen, Fiachra Bradley, Paul Gaffney, Declan Coulter (0-7), John Corvan (1-3), Kieran McKernan (0-2), Oghran Curry, Ryan Gaffney (0-1) and Artie McGuinness (0-1) with subs: Daniel Mone (for Garvey), Conor McKee (for Renaghan), Conor Hannaway (for Curry), Eoin McGuinness (1-0: for A McGuinness) and Nathan Green (for McAnallen).
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