GAA Football

Down v Armagh: Five talking points from the dramatic Ulster SFC clash

Down's Darren O'Hagan and Armagh's Rory Grugan in action during the Ulster SFC clash between Down and Armagh.
Picture by Philip Walsh.
Diarmuid Pepper

Down v Armagh: Five talking points from the dramatic Ulster Senior Football Championship clash

Refereeing decisions

When Caolan Mooney was sent off just prior to half time, it looked as though Armagh would take full control of the game in the second half.

However, the Mourne men shown great resolve to claw back a five-point deficit with only minutes remaining on the clock, despite being a man down.

But had Mooney remained on the field for the second half, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

In real time, it looked to be a bad challenge, but other replays suggest that it was a very harsh dismissal.

Indeed, it led to both Martin Clarke and Oisin McConville voicing their support for a second referee, with McConville saying: “The game has passed one referee by; it’s time for two referees… there’s two pilots in the cockpit.”

As the Ulster Championship progresses, further controversial decisions like the straight red for Mooney might lead to a greater backing for the introduction of a second pair of eyes on the field.


Missed Frees

Given the dramatic victory Armagh were able to grind out over a battling Down side, perhaps this part of the game won’t be mulled over too extensively.

But had the Orchard County lost in Páirc Esler, pundits surely would have got their knives out as regards the accuracy of Armagh’s free kick takers.

Armagh missed seven scoreable free kicks during regulation time in Páirc Esler.

Several of these frees were dropped short into the Down keeper's hands, something that the Armagh men will surely need to improve on going forward.

They were almost punished heavily for this inaccuracy against Down, and will have to improve in this area should they wish to be playing Championship football long into the summer months.


High balls into the mixer

Both sides got a lot of joy from high balls into the attacking third on Sunday. Indeed, four of the five goals scored came off the back of high balls.

Armagh were in the incredibly fortunate position to be able to introduce Andrew Murnin to the field of play with only ten minutes remaining.

In that time frame, he was able to nab himself a goal and a point, with the goal coming from a Rian O’Neill high ball that Murnin flicked beyond Mark Hynes.

At the other end of the field, a high ball in from Down caused all sorts of problems for the Armagh defence.

Jarlath Óg Burns, a standout debutant, was unfortunate to see the ball go through his grasp with time running out.


Faith in newcomers

Armagh’s starting line-up consisted of four debutants: Jarlath Óg Burns, Rian O'Neill, Ryan Kennedy and Aidan Nugent.

All four men stood out for Armagh, with Kennedy, Nugent, and O’Neill each contributing to the scoreboard. O’Neill was shining light in particular, scoring eight points.

And whilst Jarlath Óg Burns didn’t get himself on the score sheet, assistant manager Jim McCorry marvelled at his energy, saying: “I don't know what he had for breakfast given the amount of yardage the man covered.”

Down also named four debutants, with the addition of: Rory Burns, Daniel McGuinness, Conor Francis and Pat Havern.

Pat Havern shone on his debut, scoring an impressive 1-1. Conor Francis also grabbed himself a point.

However, Rory Burns had a day to forget due to a lapse of concentration in the second half.

During the first half, he looked very composed and comfortable on the ball. But in the second half, he lost possession of the ball a long way from home and received a black card which gave Armagh added impetus.


Firepower from the bench

Armagh and Down were able to rely upon substitutes coming off the bench to make game-changing moments.

Down were able to call upon Paul Devlin just after the hour remark, and he rewarded his team with 1-2.

James Guinness and Owen McCabe also added points for the Mourne men.

But it was Kieran McGeeney who was truly spoiled with choice from the sidelines.

Andrew Murnin dazzled in a 10-minute cameo, and Crossmaglen man James Morgan added a mighty score with a point from long range after coming on for the injured Patrick Burns.

Mark Shields also came off the bench to dance his way around Hynes in the Down goals and slot the ball into an empty net.

Stefan Campbell, a somewhat surprising omission from the starting line-up, made an impact as well, adding two points to the scoreboard.

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