Down 0-12 Armagh 0-11
Down gained a psychological advantage ahead of their big Ulster Championship clash with Armagh with a narrow league win at Pairc Esler.
A huge crowd turned out for this derby tussle, and they were treated to a thrilling encounter which went right down to the wire.
There were goal chances aplenty, and on the balance of the action, James McCartan’s side just about deserved this result, which extends their unbeaten run in Division One.
They raced into a two points lead through Conor Laverty and Danny Hughes, but Armagh were soon on level terms, centre back Ciaran McKeever getting their first point, quickly followed by Charlie Vernon effort.
Mark Poland and Brian Mallon had just swapped points when the Mourne men had a goal chance, but Laverty’s shot, having beaten goalkeeper Philip McEvoy, was saved on the line by Finian Moriarty.
Marty Clarke was beginning to find the defence-splitting passes, and Armagh needed another intervention from full back Brendan Donaghy, whose block on Hughes averted a dangerous situation.
Clarke cancelled out a Steven McDonnell free with a superb point from wide on the left, and the home side was back in front on 20 minutes through Hughes.
Down’s support play and slick movement of the ball was beginning to shine as the game moved into its second quarter, and it was no surprise when Hughes and Poland hit the target to give them a two points cushion.
But Armagh staged a late flourish for McDonnell to lift the spirits with a superb score, before a Rory Grugan free left a point between the sides.
Kevin McKernan pushed forward for a score which sent Down in with a 0-8 to 0-6 interval lead
Armagh, now with the wind in their backs, were ahead within four minutes of the restart, Dyas and McDonnell, from a 47 metre free, making it 0-8 apiece, before Grugan slotted a free at the other end.
It took Down 17 minutes to register their first score of the half; Conor Maginn racing through unopposed to score.
Down went back in front 10 minutes from the end through Ronan Murtagh. That score galvanised the home side, and a raft of substitutions freshened up their offensive effort.
Clarke slotted over a 20 metre free, and was at the heart of the move that ended with Murtagh curling over his second score for a three points lead.
Hughes was still buzzing, and had the winning of the game in his grasp when sent clear, by Peter Fitzpatrick, but ‘keeper McEvoy pulled off a great save
Once again, a relieved Armagh rallied, and they showed tremendous resolve to get themselves back in contention; replacement John Murtagh and Vernon both kicking points while under pressure, but the Mourne men did just enough to take the league points.
B McVeigh, G McCartan, L Howard, A Brannigan, K McKernan (0-1), D Rooney, P Fitzpatrick, K King, D Hughes (0-2), M Poland (0-2, 1f), C Maginn (0-1), C Laverty (0-1), R Murtagh (0-2), M Clarke (0-3, 2f).
Subs: C Murdock for McVeigh, J Colgan for King, P McComiskey for Laverty, C Garvey for Brannigan, R Sexton for Poland
P McEvoy, A Mallon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty, K Dyas (0-1), C McKeever (0-1), P Duffy, K Toner, C Vernon (0-2), R Grugan (0-2, 2f), M O’Rourke, B Mallon (0-1), BJ Padden, G Swift, S McDonnell (0-3, 2f).
Subs: J Lavery for Padden, J Murtagh (0-1) for O’Rourke, C Watters for B Mallon, C Clarke for Grugan
Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan).