Down 0-15 Armagh 2-7
Down scored a first Championship win over Armagh in 25 years, but they won’t be making any bold forecasts of a major breakthrough following this unconvincing success against a misfiring opponent.
The Orchard men failed to pose an attacking threat as their challenge fizzled out in the second half of a game that offered much promise before the break, when a good old-fashioned end-to-end battle thrilled a crowd of 16,168 at the Athletic Grounds.
Armagh stunned their hosts with two goals, but the Mourne men held their nerve to chart a course through to a last four meeting with either Monaghan or Cavan.
Kieran McGeeney will be particularly disappointed with the effectiveness of his front line, with the highly rated Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell failing to spark.
Darragh O’Hanlon’s four points haul, particularly the two points he struck immediately after half-time, in the end proved crucial to Down’s success and a first Ulster Championship win since 2013.
Down got off to a flying start. Playing into the wind, they hit their opponents with a volley of early scores to go into a four points lead inside the opening eight minutes.
Caolan Mooney punched over the opener, before Ryan Johnston hit the target, and goalkeeper Michael Cunningham hoisted a 40 metre free between the posts.
Jerome Johnston also converted from a placed ball, and the Orchard men were searching for inspiration.
They finally found it in the 13th minute when Mark Shields smashed home a goal, after the Mourne defence failed to clear from an Oisin O’Neill free, hoisted into the danger area from the sideline.
Kevin McKernan operated as a sweeper, but the Down defence looked shaky and porous as Armagh committed men forward, and Aaron McKay could have had a second goal,, but blazed his hurried shot over the bar.
But that goal did come in the 22nd minute. Jamie Clarke performed a couple of magic tricks along the left before sending Stefan Campbell in for a crack at goal. His shot was saved by Cunningham, but Andrew Murnin nipped in to net from the rebound.
That score gave them the lead for the first time, and they tagged on scores from Aidan Forker and Paul Hughes.
Down responded, and points from Darragh O’Hanlon, Harrison and Shay Millar had them level approaching the break.
But there was another goal chance for the Orchard men, this time Murnin denied by corner back debut man Anthony Doherty, who deflected his shot onto a post.
Stephen Sheridan edged Armagh a point ahead, 2-4 to 0-9 at the break, but once the home side got the wind in their backs, they took the game to their neighbours.
O’Hanlon slotted over a couple of excellent points and set up another for Mooney, and when Conor Maginn punched over another, they led by three.
They held Armagh scoreless for 15 minutes, until substitute Anthony Duffy found the range.
Just two points separated the sides as the game approached its final ten minutes, but Down continued to defend with discipline, with Darren O’Hagan, Gerard McvGovern and sweeper Kevin McKernan holding firm, nullifying the threat of Armagh danger men Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell.
Gavin McParland’s converted free was cancelled out by Down substitute David McKibben, and deep into injury-time, a melee resulted in a rash of yellow cards.
Armagh needed a goal from a Clarke free in the in the 12th minute of stoppage time, but he blazed over the bar, and it was all over for an Armagh side that will now look to bounce back through the Qualifiers.
Down: M Cunningham (0-1, f); A Doherty, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (0-4, 2f), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-2); K McKernan, N Donnelly; P Turley, C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston (0-1, f), C Harrison (0-2), R Johnston (0-01).
Subs: B O’Hagan (0-1), for Harrison (52), D McKibben (0-1) for Donnelly (52), N McParland for Doherty (BC, 55), J Murphy for R Johnston (57), A Carr for Turley (71), M Poland for Maginn (71)
Armagh: B Hughes; J Morgan, C Vernon, P Hughes (0-1); A McKay (0-1), B Donaghy, M Shields (1-0); S Sheridan (0-1), J McElroy; A Forker (0-1), O O’Neill, R Grugan, J Clarke (0-1, f), S Campbell, A Murnin (1-0).
Subs: N Grimley for Vernon (42), A Duffy (0-1) for O’Neill (47), G McParland (0-1, f)for Grugan (57), N Rowland for Forker (65), C O’Hanlon for Murnin (75), C McKeever for Campbell (75)
Referee: C Lane (Cork).