Hurling and camogie

Armagh score a historic victory over Down to enter Division 2A

The Armagh squad celebrates after Saturday's victory over Down in the Allianz National Hurling League Division 2B final at Páirc Naomh Bríd, Dundalk
Picture by Sportsfile
Sean Mahoney

HURLING in Armagh received a massive shot in the arm after the Orchard county won promotion to Division 2A thanks to a win over fierce rivals Down on Saturday.

As expected between two neighbours it was a full-blooded encounter and despite the heavy Dundalk pitch and the driving rain, it was an entertaining contest. Armagh captain Cahal Carvill spoke with pride after lifting the cup, while manager Sylvester McConnell believes promotion may be new beginning for his side.

“I have been with these boys for 10 years and when it comes to club championship in our county we kill each other but when we come together as a team and pull on this orange jersey we will die for each other and that was key for us out there today,” said Carvill.

“When it is put up to us, we are brothers in arms. We worked for one another and we die for one and other and that is why we won.”

Armagh led by five points at the break but only after favourites Down enjoyed a bright opening. Danny Toner gave Down an early lead with two converted frees in the opening four minutes and he kept his side on the early front foot with his third point, whereas Armagh struck three wides in the first five minutes. However, the Orchard side did get off the mark with Declan Coulter swinging over from just inside the touchline.

Despite Toner stretching Down’s lead with his third converted free Armagh started to win the midfield battle and quickly closed the gap with Ryan Gaffney holding his nerve to convert six first half frees.

Down seemed to possess that touch of class and quality in attack to grab a score and Scott Nicholson stroked over a fine point from distance to keep them ahead after 15 minutes. But further steady shooting from Gaffney gave Armagh the briefest of leads before Down’s James McGrath popped up with a brace of points to keep the sides locked on 0-7 apiece with 21 minutes played.

However, the Orchard side produced a commanding finish to the opening half, keeping Down scoreless as well as tagging on five points, including two from midfielder Stephen Renaghan, a fine strike from Nathan Curry and Gaffney’s safe conversions.

Armagh squandered a perfect opportunity to extend their lead two minutes after the restart after being awarded a penalty but Down goalkeeper Stephen Keith pulled off an excellent save, diving full-stretch to stop Coulter’s strike.

This gave Down an extra spring in their step and players like Conor Woods, Toner and Aaron O’Prey came to the fore. Toner and Rian Brannigan closed the gap with fine points before substitute Chris Egan struck the net with a neat flick. Still, as much as Down played with vigour Armagh matched them in every department with Cormac Toner, Stephen Renaghan and David Carvill putting in the hard yards.

Down were reduced to 14 men after John McManus’s red card on 45 minutes but they still forced Armagh back and ’keeper Simon Doherty did brilliantly to deflect Scott Nicholson’s goal-bound shot over the bar.

Gaffney and Toner continued trading frees but two bad misses from Toner proved costly as Conor O’Prey took over Down’s free-taking duties. Armagh’s defence held tight but importantly they also kept the scoreboard ticking over with John Corvan and Coulter striking from distance as McConnell’s men finished confidently.

The game ended with Armagh’s Ciaran Clifford and Conor Mageean being sent-off, but that didn’t take away from the Orchard celebrations after the final whistle and Armagh manager McConnell was delighted with the performance and result.

“We are up on that upper deck now, we will not be afraid of it. It is a challenge for our team next year and that is the platform for our next journey,” said McConnell.

“It is a massive lift for Armagh hurling, for all the young ones in the county and all the players in the team - but these boys wear their jersey with pride and that to me is what counts.

“We didn’t cry into the bottom of our glass looking for answers after last year’s Nicky Rackard Cup final defeat. We stood up and came back fighting and we showed today just by how much we have moved on.”

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Hurling and camogie