Armagh break Ulster SHC duck

Armagh 0-14 Down 1-10

Armagh 0-14 Down 1-10

Late points from Ruairi McGrattan and Conor Corvan guided Armagh’s hurlers past Down and into the county’s first Ulster SHC final since 1946.

Today’s semi-final at Casement Park was closely-fought throughout and heavy favourites Down edged ahead for half-time at 0-07 to 0-06.

The Mourne men grabbed the only goal in the 44th minute through Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson, but Ryan Gaffney, McGrattan and Corvan led Armagh to a fine comeback win which sets up a June 26 decider against reigning champions Antrim.

Just six weeks ago Down had beaten Armagh 1-20 to 0-06 in the Christy Ring Cup, with Gerard Monan's side expected to gain a similar result here.

But Monan recognised the improvements being made in Armagh hurling when stating pre-match that, 'if we sit back and let Armagh dictate, we'll be in serious trouble. We're taking this very seriously.'

Michael Johnston's men duly delivered the sort of performance that they have been threatening this year, with this afternoon's historic win producing rapturous scenes at the final whistle.

Down made a bright start with the talismanic Paul Braniff scoring three first half points as his side led by a point at the interval. However, the Portaferry clubman was a doubt to start the second half after requiring treatment twice during the opening 35 minutes.

Braniff emerged for the second half, and it certainly gave his side a huge lift as they kept on course for their fifth successive Ulster final appearance.

The game's only goal arrived nine minutes in when Johnson cracked home after Braniff had played in a long range free. It opened up a three-point lead for the first time in the game, but in such a well-contested encounter Armagh were quick to hit back. Indeed, they tore up the script with a sterling finish.

They had finished strongly in their quarter-final win over Monaghan and did likewise here, with free-taker Gaffney (0-07) and McGrattan hugely influencial and there were also some fine displays from Kieran McKiernan and Michael Lennon, who were part of the Armagh side that reached last year's Ulster Under-21 final.

The equaliser came from an unlikely source as centre-back McGrattan burst upfield to tie the game at 0-13 to 1-10. The momentum was firmly with Armagh at this stage as they sensed qualification for a first Ulster senior decider for 65 years was in their grasp.

Down goalkeeper Graham Clarke kept his side in contention. The current All-Ireland Poc Fada champion made a trio of fine saves during the contest. But the Orchard men had the final say, with Corvan's last-gasp score making amends for his earlier penalty miss.

Armagh, who have never won the Ulster SHC title, will face Antrim in the final at Casement Park in two weeks' time. Armagh's senior team will complete the set of Ulster final appearances for the county's hurlers, as their minor and Under 21 sides both reached their respective provincial finals last year.

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