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Armagh get off to winning start against Down in McKenna Cup

Aarons – McKay of Armagh and Down's Morgan – compete during the Dr McKenna Cup match at Pairc Esler on Wednesday Picture by Hugh Russell

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section B: Down 0-13 Armagh 2-12

TWO second-half goals proved decisive for Armagh as they got their new season off to a winning start in Newry last night.

Andrew Murnin and Ronan Lappin hit the Down net in the 38th and 46th minutes, respectively but the Orchard men had to withstand a late onslaught to guarantee the win.

Over 1,500 supporters turned up to watch what turned out to be an entertaining 70 minutes of football.

Armagh fielded quite an experienced line-up, with the defensive-minded Patrick Burns of Forkhill one of the few new faces to start.

Down fielded two debutants – Kilcoo’s Aaron Morgan and Glenn’s Ronan Millar, younger brother of Shay.

Young Millar definitely took his chance with both hands, hitting three first half points and adding two more in the second half (0-3 frees).

Conor Maginn got the Mournemen off to a flyer with a raking opener off the upright after two minutes before the Orchard men hit three unanswered points, with Niall Rowland’s fine effort with the outside of his right foot the pick of the early scores.

Down’s biggest problem in the opening half was trying to come to terms with Armagh’s full court press.

Shane Harrison in the home side’s goal had desperate trouble finding a red jersey in space from his kick-outs with Stephen Sheridan and Charlie Vernon dominating at centrefield for the visitors.

Oisin Mac Iomhair and Aidan Forker shared free-taking duties for Armagh and bagged a combined five first-half points from placed balls, with some lazy tackling contributing to Down trailing at the break by 0-9 to 0-5.

Forker was equally impressive from open play for Armagh in the first half, finding his range in the 17th and 20th minutes.

His accuracy from distance and his sound decision-making in the attacking third could see the Maghery clubman remain higher up the field in 2018, especially in the absence of Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell and young Oisin O’Neill.

Armagh continued to press on the accelerator at the start of the second half and carved out an eight-point advantage after 38 minutes thanks to the impressive Rowland firing over his second of three on the night and Andrew Murnin finding the net after Forker’s angled drive was parried out by Harrison.

Despite a pair of points from Anthony Doherty (free) and Sean Dornan, Armagh didn’t have to wait long to ripple the home side’s net again.

Gregory McCabe made a 40-yard dash before off-loading to Maghery’s Ronan Lappin who cut inside to fire beneath the advancing Harrison to put Armagh 2-10 to 0-7 ahead on 46 minutes.

With the game seemingly in the bag, Armagh went to sleep.

Between the 48th and 54th minutes, the Mournemen hit five points in a row with substitute Caolan Mooney lifting the home crowd’s spirits with two excellent scores in that purple patch.

But just as Eamonn Burns’s men got themselves within striking distance, Armagh nailed back-to-back scores in the 61st and 63rd minutes through Ronan Lappin and man-of-the-match Rowland to kill off the home side’s late revival.

Down: S Harrison; C Flanagan, G McGovern, K McKernan (0-1); J Bell, A Doherty (0-2 frees), J Flynn; P Turley, N McParland; S Millar, C Maginn (0-1), C Poland; R Millar (0-5, 0-3 frees), S Dornan (0-1), A Morgan

Subs: B O’Hagan (0-1) for S Dornan (41), C Mooney (0-2) for J Bell (41), C Francis for A Morgan (46), S Murray for R Millar (66); Blood sub: C Mooney for C Poland (35-36)

Yellow cards: C Flanagan (32), C Poland (35), A Doherty (35), B O’Hagan (65), C Mooney (70)

Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, A Forker (0-4, 0-2 frees), P Hughes (0-1); B Donaghy, N Rowland (0-3), M Shields; C Vernon, P Burns; O Mac Iomhair (0-3 frees), A Murnin (1-0), R Lappin (1-1); G McCabe, J McElroy, S Sheridan

Subs: R Grugan for A Murnin (48), A Findon for S Sheridan (57), M McKenna for N Rowland (68); Yellow cards: C Vernon (26), A Forker (34), N Rowland (53), A McKay (70), R Kennedy for R Lappin (70), O Lappin for A McKay (72)

Referee: S Laverty (Antrim)

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