Armagh hurlers will endure nightmares about demolition derby defeat by Down
Christy Ring Cup Group Two, round one: Down 6-21 Armagh 0-11
ARMAGH hurlers have been a bogey team for Down in recent years but the visitors will have nightmares about this demolition derby defeat.
The hosts were so dominant that Down manager Marty Mallon sounded genuinely sympathetic for Armagh afterwards, even though the Orchardmen had inflicted recent losses on his county in the Ulster Championship and the Division 2B Final of 2016.
There was no triumphalism from the Portaferry man, despite declaring that "We weren't really tested", and describing their opponents as being "in disarray" following a recent change of management and the departure of several experienced players.
Armagh's hopes were hit even harder by two red cards, losing wing-back Davy Bridges midway through the first half, then full-forward Eoin McGuinness early in the second period.
Down cruised to a 28-point victory despite playing patchily; indeed it was only late in the game that they made their two-man advantage really count, although admittedly plenty of damage had been done by half-time.
Portaferry brothers and corner-forwards Daithi and Eoghan Sands both fired first half goals before skipper Declan McManus skipped through to net one himself, and Paul Sheehan's free-taking helped them to a convincing interval advantage of 19 points, 3-15 to 0-5.
The buoyant red and blacks were making hay in the brilliant sunshine in Ballycran and appeared on course to boost their scoring difference significantly in this group.
They did so eventually, yet Armagh were somehow winning the second half, even though Nathan Curry's shooting sights were slightly askew for a few frees, before a late salvo from Down blew them away.
Daithi Sands completed his hat-trick with two more goals after the hour mark and substitute Oisin McManus added to the rout by bagging a major in injury time.
Mallon was pleased by his players' performance, but read little into it: "It was very comprehensive, aye. They're in disarray, to be fair to them. Fair play to them getting together and coming up. You just have to beat what's in front of you but it doesn't really tell us anything.
"We weren't really tested, to be fair. That's not being harsh on Armagh; their league form would have suggested that was going to happen. We're happy, although we don't really know where we're at for London next week."
The positives for Mallon came from the youth in his side, as he explained: "We had a lot of young fellas playing, very, very young. Five of our defenders are under 21."
He picked out one back for particular praise: "Ruairi McCrickard, is still a teenager, it's his first game, coming from a junior club [Liatroim], and he had a storming game there at centre back."
Mallon insisted he wasn't worried or bothered about Down's struggles to score heavily for much of the second half, saying: "No, the game was gone, and we brought on five subs. It's hard to motivate yourselves when you're so far in front. There's a lot of young lads and they're all gaining experience, that's all you can ask for."
The game actually appeared set to be another tight tussle initially, at least until the opening goal in the 13th minute, started by a stick-breaking block tackle from Down captain McManus and finished confidently at the other end by Daithi Sands.
Down had increased their lead to eight, 1-7 to 0-2, when Bridges crossed a line, earning a red card for striking into Sheehan's faceguard as they contested a puck-out.
The hosts extended their scoring streak, and advantage, to 1-9, before Armagh replied, but that was immediately met by a second Down goal, Eoghan Sands running through to score in the 27th minute.
Their captain McManus did likewise four minutes later and there was clearly no way back for Armagh, even with the wind at their backs.
Newry Shamrock McGuinness, in the orange number 14 jersey, was unfortunate to be dismissed for a second yellow card, for an offence which had caused no outcry from the admittedly sparse crowd, his first caution having been for dissent.
Armagh did at least show they had something to say for themselves after that, notably midfielder John Corvan taking a couple of fine scores, so that they had outscored Down by five points to four as the hour mark approached.
However, as they understandably tired, Down found gaps, with Daithi Sands grabbing two more goals before Liatroim's Oisin McManus also netted.
Armagh next host Derry, who thrashed them in the Division 2B relegation play-off, while Down head to London, fresh from their opening victory away to the Oak Leafers.
That will be much tougher for Down; it may not get any easier for Armagh.
Down: S Keith; B Byers, M Hughes, Peter McManus; M Fisher (0-1 free), R McCrickard, L Savage; D McManus (capt.) (1-0), M Magee (0-2); P Og McCrickard (0-1), C Bailie (0-1), P Sheehan (0-6, 0-5 frees); D Sands (3-3), D Toner (0-3), E Sands (1-3).
Substitutes: O McManus (1-1) for Bailie (h-t); E Coulter for Byers (38); T Murray for Sheehan (49); J Crowe for Keith (49); Paul McManus for Fisher (63).
Armagh: F Woods; O Curry, P Gaffney, A Fox; C Clifford, A McGuinness, D Bridges; N Curry (0-6 frees), J Corvan (0-2); D McKenna, P McGrane, S Renaghan (0-1); D McCreesh (0-2), E McGuinness, B Short.
Substitutes: D Magee for Short (h-t); C McAnallen for McKenna (46); D Grant for O Curry (52); G McKeown for A McGuinness (65); D Gaffney for Renaghan (67).
Yellow cards: E McGuinness (23 and 43).
Red cards: Bridges (18); E McGuinness (43, second yellow)