Armagh come out on top in Ulster Championship classic against Down in Newry
WINNING was enough but if ever there was a time, or a place to get a monkey off your back, yesterday in Newry was it for Armagh.
Over the course of 100 minutes of quality action, the Orchardmen won, lost and won this game again. In the end, they came out on top by a single point.
It was Armagh’s first victory in Ulster in Kieran McGeeney’s fifth year as their manager and victory, against auld enemy Down, meant the world to the Armagh players and their hordes of enthusiastic fans.
"Everybody talks about records, Kieran losing four, the 60-odd years since Down have been beaten here (by Armagh), all these different records,” reflected assistant-manager Jim McCorry after an absorbing encounter.
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“Win one game and a lot of people think that's them gone and they're forgotten about, all that talk: ‘Would he stay on? Would they keep him on?’ Within the camp people don't think like that, footballers don't think like that, they don't think about two years ago, 'we must go out and get revenge here.
“They go out and think about what their preparation has been and what performance they must put out. I'd rather be here talking about the win rather than to try to defend a fifth successive Championship loss so, from that point of view, there will be relief that we won.”
Armagh, who now meet Cavan on June 2, were in the box seat midway through the second half but could not keep Down at bay during a nail-biting finale as the Mournemen forced extra-time.
Then they had to battle back from the brink to get their noses in front and keep them there when the long whistle finally sounded.
"We threw away leads in a couple of League games, we thought we had put that ghost to bed and we didn't expect the same situation to occur,” said McCorry.
“To be very honest, we have to look at ourselves for that, we can't blame opposition. We have to make sure that is corrected. It's a work in progress.
"Though that's disappointing I'm sure Down are thinking the same but the important thing for us is the way we came back.
"A lot of people would have said Armagh wouldn't have come back the way we have so it's important. Rory Grugan talked about ‘the monkey off the back’ so it's important to get that win. “People talk about the win for the county, for themselves and for Kieran because he has put so much work in over the last number of years but the bottom line is we just needed to get a win and move forward in games.”
Andy Murnin was a surprise inclusion among the Armagh subs yesterday. McCorry paid tribute to his clubmate at St Paul’s, Lurgan who came on for the second period of extra-time and scored 1-1 to decide the issue.
"During the week I was talking about Andrew and his availability and we were targeting him for the next game in two weeks’ time, that's how we had assessed the injury,” he said.
“We knew there were 10 or 15 minutes in him, knowing the quality of the player he is – he’s superb and he can turn a game on a sixpence and we have seen that.
"It's a really strong bench and that was probably the difference in the end.”
Murnin’s dramatic impact had only been possible because of the work of the other 21 Armagh players who featured yesterday and that included Championship debutants Ryan Kennedy, Aidan Nugent, Jarlath og Burns and Rian O’Neill.
"I said to Jarly Og after: ‘I don't know what you had for breakfast’,” said McCorry.
“The amount of yardage the man covered. It's bad enough doing it for the 70-plus minutes of stoppage time but he was still going strong in the last 10-minute period.”
Referring to his side’s numerical advantage after Caolan Mooney had been sent off, he added: "We didn't use the extra-man as much as we should have. They went 14 men behind the ball and they had that bit of a lead so that's something else for us to look at.”