Michael Corry reporting live from Páirc Esler
Wow… and breathe… what a finale.
Extra-time was needed to separate Down and Armagh in front of 15,112 fans at Páirc Esler this afternoon but in the end, it was the Orchard County who came out on top.
Kieran McGeeney was looking for his first Ulster Championship win since taking over as Armagh boss in 2015 having lost each of their previous four quarter-final ties and he will surely go home happy after watching his Armagh troops come out on the right side of an Ulster result when all looked lost having let a five-point lead slip with four minutes remaining.
Here are our quickfire conclusions following a thrilling finale at Páirc Esler.
Youth Needs No Introduction
Armagh came out of the blocks firing with debutant, Jarly Og Burns, rising highest to claim the throw-in. A few passes later, the ball landed in the arms of fellow debutant, Rian O’Neill, who stroked over a beautiful score with his first kick in championship football.
O’Neill would have a very influential game for Armagh kicking 0-8 on his championship debut.
Same Old Armagh
Armagh led by five points with four minutes remaining, however, 1-2 without reply from the Mournemen sent the game to extra-time. It’s an age-old issue for this Armagh side who have let countless leads slip in the final few minutes in seasons gone by.
Luckily for them, they pulled it out of the bag in the final ten minutes of extra-time.
Crossmaglen Still Rule The Roost
While Crossmaglen Rangers may not be the force of old it’s clear to see that they are key to the Armagh cause. All seven of Armagh’s scores in the first-half were kicked by Rangers men, Rian O’Neill (0-4), Jamie Clarke (0-2) and James Morgan (0-1).
Down Exploits Armagh’s Weakness
Armagh looked susceptible in their full-back line and Down were able to expose this time and time again. Connaire Harrison dropped deep a lot to great effect, however, when kept inside the big man was a handful. Down’s goal also came from a long high ball into the full-back line as Pat Havern beat both Paul and Blaine Hughes to punch home.
Mooney’s Red Card
Caolan Mooney was given his marching orders for a big hit on Aidan Nugent shortly before the half-time whistle. It turned out to have a huge bearing on the outcome. The Mournemen were in the ascendency before Mooney’s dismissal and the extra man seemed to tell in the final 20 minutes.
Fly-Keeper Gone Wrong
While Rory Burns didn’t exactly play the role of fly-keeper the one time he did come out he lost the ball and proceeded to drag down the Armagh attacker leaving the referee with no option but to black card the goalkeeper.
It’s Not All About The First XV
The Orchard County bench had a huge bearing on the outcome. James Morgan was introduced very early in the game and got on a tonne of ball throughout, hitting a lovely first-half score.
Mark Shields grabbed a goal off the bench, while Stefan Campbell hit a beautiful point to back up Shield’s three-pointer. Andy Murnin then came on in extra-time to level the game with his first kick of 2019 before punching the ball to the goal to put Armagh three-points in front.
Down’s bench was equally as impressive as Paul Devlin, Owen McCabe and James Guinness were all sprung from the bench to great effect, kicking scores.
The Murnin Effect
Armagh’s chief full-forward, Andy Murnin, hasn’t played a competitive game in 2019 and the St. Paul’s man was brought on for a 10-minute cameo in extra-time, hitting 1-1 when Armagh needed him most.
It’s Cavan v Armagh for a place in the 2019 Ulster final. Something tells me neither side will fear the other.
Down XV: Rory Burns; Darren O’Hagan (c), Ruairi Wells, Gerard Collins; Ryan McAleenan, Kevin McKernan, Daniel Guinness; Caolan Mooney, Conor Poland; Conor Francis, Jerome Johnston, Conor Maginn; Pat Havern, Donal O’Hare, Connaire Harrison.
Armagh XV: Blaine Hughes; Patrick Burns, Aaron McKay, Paul Hughes; Ryan Kennedy, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker; Charlie Vernon, Jarly Og Burns; Aidan Nugent, Ethan Rafferty, Jemar Hall; Rory Gruagn (c), Rian O’Neill, Jamie Clarke.