After a nightmare week for Armagh, there was more than a touch of irony about Ciarán McKeever’s late heroics which helped the Orchard county snatch a precious league victory on Saturday night.
The Armagh captain got home at 4am on Saturday morning from a CHC hearing which quashed the two-match ban he picked up at O’Moore Park the previous week. But McKeever shrugged off the controversy to kick a late equaliser before young forward Michael Stevenson secured victory with a coolly converted injury-time free.
Paddy O’Rourke was delighted – and claimed McKeever had been ‘wronged’ by the GAA. “We felt he had been wronged and it was good that sense prevailed and he’s back. Hopefully that’s the way it will stay because he’s very important to us. He’s a superb player and a superb leader. You can’t do without the likes of him if you want to be winning these sort of games.”
Unusually for an Ulster derby, the game was open and sprinkled with quality scores from open play.
Considering Armagh had Division One survival at stake and Down were chasing a league semi-final spot the stakes were reasonably high, yet it was, as James McCartan described, ‘a humdinger of a game’. Only one wide was registered in the first-half as Down led 0-9 to 0-8 at the break.
But soon after the restart Brian Mallon converted after a footblock on Stevenson, which put the home side in front again. But back came Down with Mark Poland, Ambrose Rogers, Danny Hughes and Dan Gordon all scoring from play. Yet Armagh rallied again, inspired by McKeever. The game came at a cost though for Armagh as Peter Carragher, playing in only his second match for the seniors, broke his ankle in two places while his replacement, Rory Grugan, lasted 10 minutes before limping off with a hamstring injury.
Armagh absorbed the blows and kept on going. A hugely entertaining game ebbed and flowed. James McCartan feels Down may now have to get a point in Laois to guarantee staying in division one, but he was disappointed they didn’t get the job done on Saturday night. “We are obviously a lot closer to our championship fifteen than Armagh, and that’s disappointing too, that we didn’t take advantage of that.”
Scorers for Armagh: M Stevenson 0-6 (6f), B Mallon 1-3 (penalty, 2f), C McKeever, P Carragher, F Moriarty, D McKenna, C Rafferty all 0-1 each.
Scorers for Down: A Carr 0-6 (6f), D Hughes 0-2, M Poland 0-2, E McCartan 0-2, A Rogers 0-2 (a 45), K McKernan 0-1, D Gordon 0-1.
Subs for Armagh:: R Grugan for Carragher (23), D Lavery for Grugan (33), J Lavery for Padden (HT).
Subs for Down: B Coulter for Maginn (42), K Quinn for Brannigan (60), A McArdle for King (64).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).
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