Kieran McGeeney savoured his first Ulster Championship victory in five seasons as Armagh manager as a manic quarter-final tie was settled in dramatic fashion in extra-time.
Fourteen-man Down battled back from five points behind to draw level at the end of normal time, and looked to have taken control as they eased into a three points lead, but Orchard spirit was never broken as they dragged themselves back with a decisive Andrew Murnin goal.
Rian O’Neill had a dream debut in the Armagh attack, the 20-year-old Crossmaglen star hitting eight points to make a massive contribution to a hugely important derby win.
A thrilling, absorbing contest swung in favour of each side at various stages, but in the end, it was Armagh who showed the character that carried them through to a semi-final meeting with Cavan.
In front of a crowd of 15,112, O’Neill, a full forward target man in the traditional fashion, fetching and firing over his side’s opening two scores, gave his side the edge, with Donal O’Hare (free) and Jerome Johnston responding for the home side.
It was a fast-moving opening with both sides looking to use their pacey men to create openings, and the sides were level on four occasions in the opening quarter.
Jamie Clarke lofted a brilliant point from wide on the right, before Conor Francis carved the opening for Conor Poland to bring Down level again.
And a James Morgan effort was cancelled out by Connaire Harrison, who collected a searching delivery from Kevin McKernan to score on the turn.
Again, O’Neill edged the Orchard back in front, but Down took the lead for the first time with a 23rd minute goal, when Gerard Collins sent a dropping ball into the danger area, for Pat Havern to get a hand to it and deflect past goalkeeper Blaine Hughes.
Donal O’Hare’s free opened up a three points gap, and as Armagh sought to deliver a response, poor shooting was compounded by scoreable frees from O’Neill and Rory Grugan which dropped short and were comfortably dealt with by goalkeeper Rory Burns.
After a scoreless 16 minute spell, they finally got back on the mark with another splendid Clarke effort, while solid defending from Collins and Ryan McAleenan prevented further damage as the Orchard men surged forward with purpose.
Down suffered a blow in stoppage time when influential midfielder Caolan Mooney received a straight red card for a high tackle on Aidan Nugent.
His side was clinging onto a slender 1-5 to 0-7 interval lead, and remained in front for most of the third quarter.
Aidan Nugent brought the Orchard men level, but his effort was cancelled out by Havern, thanks to the creativity of Jerome Johnston.
Jarlath Og Burns charged through to win the free that O’Neill despatched, and as the Armagh men built momentum, Down defenders Darren O’Hagan and McKernan intervened to keep them out for a further 12 minutes.
But Kieran McGeeney’s men began to make the extra man count, hitting 1-3 to take control.
It was Mark Shields who rounded substitute ‘keeper Mark Hynes, on for the black-carded Rory Burns, to net in the 54th minute, before substitute Stefan Campbell made it a five points game.
It appeared to be all over for the tiring Mourne men as O’Neill sent another free sailing between the posts with five minutes to go, but an inspired comeback rescued Paddy Tally’s side.
Cory Quinn slipped a pass to Donal O’Hare to squeeze home a goal from the tightest of angles, and stoppage time scores from Paul Devlin and James Guinness applied a dramatic finish, level at 2-10 to 1-13 and into extra-time.
Substitutes Paul Devlin, James Guinness and Barry O’Hagan all landed points as Down, now restored to the full complement of 15 players, moved into a 2-13 to 1-14 lead at the end of the first period of extra-time.
Ben Crealey made a big impact off the bench, giving Armagh a midfield edge, and they fought back with scores from subs Stefan Campbell and Andrew Murnin, before Murnin punched to the net from O’Neill’s dropping delivery five minutes from the end.
Armagh smelt victory, but there was to be another scare right at the end as Paul Devlin’s speculative ball from distance was deflected into the net, but the home side was unable to get the vital extra score that would have tied the game.
Down: R Burns; D O’Hagan, R Wells, G Collins; R McAleenan, K McKernan, D Guinness; C Mooney, C Poland (0-1); C Francis (0-1), J Johnston (0-2, 1f), C Maginn; P Havern (1-1), D O’Hare (1-2, 0-2f), C Harrison (0-1).
Subs: J Guinness (0-2) for Wells (25), B O’Hagan (0-1) for Maginn (47), M Hynes for Burns (BC 50), C Quinn for Havern (61), P Devlin (1-2, 0-2f) for Johnston (61), O McCabe for Poland (67), R Mallon (71), Poland for J Guinness (84), Havern for Mallon (86), Johnston for O’Hare (90)
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; R Kennedy (0-1), B Donaghy, A Forker; C Vernon, J Og Burns; A Nugent (0-1), E Rafferty, J Hall; R Grugan, R O’Neill (0-8, 4f), J Clarke (0-2).
Subs: J Morgan (0-2) for P Burns (6), M Shields (1-0) for Vernon (30), J McElroy for Hughes (44), S Campbell (0-2) for Rafferty (45), S Sheridan for Kennedy (64), G McCabe for Hall (BC 66), Vernon for Forker (71), Kennedy for Nugent (71), B Crealey for Sheridan (76), A Murnin (1-1) for McCabe (81), Rafferty for Grugan (87)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).
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