GAA Football

Dramatic late penalty drama as star fowards see Down through

Down's Finn McElroy gets away from Tiernan Kelly of Armagh during yesterday's MFC game at Pairc Esler
Neil Loughran

Electric Ireland MFC quarter-final: Down 2-13 Armagh 2-11

From Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler

DOWN weren’t behind at any stage of yesterday’s Ulster Championship quarter-final clash – but they almost threw it away right at the death.

The Mournemen raced into a 1-4 to 0-0 lead after a quarter of an hour but, even though Armagh closed the gap before half-time, Down kept their noses in front as the finish line approached.

With the clock counting down though, Armagh were handed a lifeline.

Trailing by three in the first minute of added time, referee Martin Conroy blew for an Orchard penalty after Down ‘keeper Jack Hazard came through the back of the dangerous Conor Turbitt.

Just 30 seconds earlier the same player looked to have been pulled down inside the square, so there was a sense that justice had been done.

Up stepped Tiernan Kelly to take the spot kick that would bring the game into extra-time. Hazard, though, hadn’t read the script as he dived to his left to deny the Clann Eireann forward and, although Kelly put the rebound over the bar, there was to be no denying Down.

“There was panic all over the place at that stage,” said former Down boss James McCartan.

“Our goalkeeper saved us on the day but I do think that, over the 60 minutes, we shaded it.

“It’s a while since we had a Championship win at any level, so we’ll take it.”

McCartan is probably right and, in the end, the class of forward pair Conor McCrickard and Liam Kerr proved the difference.

Between McCrickard in the first half and Kerr in the second, they accounted for all but one of Down’s scores, with McCrickard clinically bagging both goals.

McCartan added: “We always think in Down we can produce good forwards but in the last couple of years we haven’t been showing it. Those boys were challenged to produce it on the big day, and thank goodness they did.”

McCrickard was central as Down raced into the lead early on, scoring 1-3 of their 1-4 as Armagh searched for their first score of the day.

The Liatroim man continued to pile on the misery for the Orchard with another two scores as Down led 1-7 to 0-2 seven minutes before the break.

Armagh started to push up high on the Down kick-outs and got plenty of joy before the interval, notching the last four scores of the half through Turbitt, Aodhan McEvoy and two from captain Ross McQuillan.

But back came Down after the break, McCrickard’s second goal five minutes in restoring a bit of daylight as he finished coolly following good work from the marauding Conor Clarke.

Four minutes later Armagh responded in kind, Kelly almost bursting the net as he ignored the support around him to lash home and leave it 2-8 to 1-8.

Yet just when Down looked a bit lost for ideas, up stepped Kerr.

The Burren forward landed five of the next six scores in the game, dropping over two beautiful long-range frees and three superb efforts from play as Down were back in the box seat heading into the last five minutes.

As was the case in the first half, Armagh came on strongly towards the close and grabbed a second goal, McQuillan palming home after a smart fist back from Jamie Haughey to set up a nervy final few minutes.

One penalty shout was waved away but when the second came, Paul McGrane’s men couldn’t take advantage – Hazard the hero as Down advanced to a last four clash with Cavan.

Down: J Hazard; C Fitzsimons, B Gallen, T Gordon; F McElroy, C Clarke, P Fegan; S Annett, R McCrickard; R Anderson, R McCormick, D McClements (0-1); T Prenter, C McCrickard (2-4, 0-2 frees), L Kerr (0-8, 0-4 frees). Subs: R Carr for F McElroy (blood sub, 7), F McElroy for R Carr (21), R Carr for T Gordon (34), R O’Higgins for R Anderson (50), A Gribben for D McClements (53), L Middleton for R Carr (63)

Yellow cards: T Prenter (44), R McCrickard (59)

Armagh: M Magill; J Haddock, S McCarthy, E McCabe; R Meehan, J Haughey, R McGuinness; K Doyle, Z Burnickis; R McQuillan (1-4, 0-3 frees), J Kierans, A McEvoy (0-1); C McConville (0-1, free), C Turbitt (0-3), T Kelly (1-2). Subs: C Magennis for S McCarthy (49), A McConville for J Kierans (49), N Magennis for A McEvoy (56), D Rafferty for R McGuinness (60)

Yellow cards: J Haughey (32), E McCabe (44), R McGuinness (59)

Referee: M Conroy (Tyrone)

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