Down withstand late Armagh rally to take maximum points
National Hurling League Division 2B: Armagh 2-14 Down 2-16
DOWN recorded a narrow victory over neighbours Armagh to get their NHL Division 2B campaign off to a winning start.
Despite being played on St Valentine’s Day there was no love lost between the side and with typical winter hurling on show it was rough and tumble at times. But that is not taking away from some of the excellent hurling on display, from sublime scores to strong tackles there was plenty of action to get the reasonably large crowd at the Athletic Grounds on their feet.
Armagh boss Sylvester McConnell was disappointed with the result yet upbeat about the performance: “The game tossed and turned and if we can put that performance in for the rest of the year then that score difference will mean nothing at the end of this season,” said McConnell.
“I was looking a result, but I think that we are not that far away and a few wee tweaks here and small changes there will do it. I had no roaring to do at half-time or anything like that. It is small margins and that is what it takes in order to get us to the next level.”
Armagh missed a number of crucial scores, most notably Artie McGuinness’s first half penalty, which was well saved by Down goalkeeper Stephen Keith, who impressed throughout. It was an open and entertaining first half with the scoreboard reflecting the little there was between the teams at the break.
Armagh got off to a bright start with Ryan Gaffney and the nippy Conor Corvan slotting over points before Conor Woods replied with a fine strike from 50 metres with only three minutes played. Conor Corvan could have bagged an early goal but Keith made a brilliant full-length save to force a 65.
Declan Coulter converted but within a minute Down were level on 0-3 to 0-3 with the busy Danny Toner firing over two points. With 13 minutes gone Down edged in front with Fintan Conway popping over from 50 metres after Conor O’Prey’s neat lay-off and Woods and Toner added to their scoring tally.
Armagh were gifted a chance to level the score when Conor Corvan was pulled to the ground by Matthew Conlon and referee Eamonn Hassan awarded a penalty, which McGuinness took but Keith saved. The Orchard men fought back and points from Declan Coulter and Conor Corvan followed before a sharply taken goal by Keady’s John Corvan gave Armagh a 1-5 to 0-6 lead on 22 minutes.
Down’s response was immediate but Caolan Bailie’s shot flashed across the goal and wide. The sides traded scores with Down’s Donal Hughes and Conor Mageean hitting points and Conor Corvan and Eoin McGuinness replying for Armagh.
However, the speedy Toner raced his way through two Armagh defenders and struck beautifully into the net to nose Down in front and Conor O’Prey, who put in enormous work, added a point. Nathan Curry scored with a long-range effort to reduce the gap at half-time, with Down leading 1-9 to 1-8.
Down stretched their lead with Toner, Conor Woods and Bailie weighing in with points. But Ryan Gaffney and Conor Corvan kept Armagh in touch. Then Down hit a purple patch with Woods scoring directly from a sideline cut 40 metres out.
Down’s tails were up and they led 2-14 to 1-10 heading into the final 10 minutes. Then came the late Orchard rally. Gaffney and Coulter missed three scoreable shots, but substitute Dylan McKenna pointed with his first touch, Gaffney added to the tally but before Conor Corvan landed his injury-time goal. Bailie and Toner had chipped in with points to give Down a vital cushion.
But Corvan’s goal ensured a frantic finish and with seconds running out Gaffney searched for the equaliser but his reaction said it all when placing his hands on his head as he watched his effort sail over the bar and with it any chance of victory.
Armagh: S Doherty, C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin, J King, N Curry (0-1), C Toner, K McKernan, E McGuinness (0-1), D Coulter (0-2 65s), R Gaffney (0-5, 0-3 frees), D Carvill, C Corvan (1-4), J Corvan (1-0), C Carvill; Subs: D McKenna (0-1) for C Devlin (59).
Down: S Keith, M Conlon, P Flynn, M McCullough, C O’Prey (0-1), C Woods (1-3, 1-0 sideline), J McGrath, S Nicholson (0-1), F Conway (0-1), C Bailie (0-2), S Dineen, D Hughes (0-1), D Toner (1-6, 0-1 free), C Mageean (0-1) C Egan; Subs: S Ennis for M McCullough (39), C Taggart for Dineen (46), R Branagan for Mageean (54), A O’Prey for Egan (57), J Doran for Conway (65).
Referee: E Hassan (Derry).