Armagh 1-15 Down 1-10
Armagh made a spectacular return to form with a sensational Ulster Football Championship win over last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Down.
It was a night of celebration as the Orchard men returned to the Athletic Grounds for their first championship appearance in Armagh city since 1995.
Charlie Vernon led the way with a towering midfield performance, but it was the passion and fervour which Armagh brought to the contest which decided the outcome.
Despite the live screening of the Champions League final, a decent crowd of 13,107 turned up on a miserable evening as Paddy O’Rourke’s men announced their arrival on the big stage, setting up a semi-final clash with Derry.
This was a game which really got the Ulster Championship going, after two dull games had sparked scathing criticism of the standard of football in the northern province.
Mark Poland and Martin Clarke hit early Down points, both from frees, but Jamie Clarke raised the roof with a fifth minute goal, finishing low to the net after Tony Kernan had collected Ciaran McKeever’s long delivery and slipped the ball inside.
The Orchard men added points through corner back Kevin Dyas, Clarke and Steven McDonnell, and defended superbly as Down broke forward.
Brendan Donaghy, Kevin Dyas and Paul Duffy were immense at the back for Paddy O’Rourke’s side, while Vernon got through an immense amount of work in midfield.
The home side opened out a six points lead, but Down struck back with a superb Mark Poland goal in the 22nd minute.
He jinked past three defenders to finish to the net past a helpless Paul hearty and bring the Mourne men right back into it.
Billy Joe Padden fired over his second point, but Down hit the last three points of the half, including a delightful Marty Clarke effort.
Armagh led by 1-8 to 1-6 at the break, but they were hauled back, with Down going level through Marty Clarke, who curled over as superb free from just inside the sideline.
But the Mourne men were suffocated by an Armagh side that performed with passion and vigour, conceding just one point in the final 25 minutes.
The magnificent Vernon ruled the midfield area, and Aaron Kernan swept over a couple of excellent frees, with his brother Tony also landing a neat score.
Danny Hughes was squeezed out of the game all evening by the excellent Andy Mallon, but managed to bang over an excellent score.
There was precious little more for Mourne fans to cheer, however, particularly when they saw Paul Duffy clear off the line as they pressed for a goal.
Armagh finished with a flourish, with Aaron Kernan kicking his fifth score and Padden bringing his tally to three.
Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, K Dyas (0-1), A Kernan (0-5, 3f), C McKeever, P Duffy, K Toner, C Vernon, T Kernan (0-1), BJ Padden (0-3), M Mackin (0-2), M O’Rourke, S McDonnell (0-1, f), J Clarke (1-2).
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, D Gordon, B McArdle, D Rooney (0-1), K McKernan, G McCartan, P Fitzpatrick, K King, D Hughes (0-1), M Clarke (0-5, 4f), P McComiskey (0-2), J Clarke, B Coulter, M Poland (1-1, 0-1f).
Subs: C Magin for J Clarke
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).