Armagh 1-11 Down 5-6
LURGAN club St Paul’s got the weather they deserved for the opening of their new state-of-the-art grounds at Taghnevan last Sunday on a day which was a huge success for the local community.
Both Armagh and Down supporters who were paying their first visit to the Lurgan venue could only have been impressed by the new development at Taghnevan which could hold it’s own with any ground in the county.
The on-field participants from both the Mournes and the Orchard county paid the event due respect and lined out strong teams, but home town boy Andrew Murnan from the host club, who was due for a starting place, picked up an ankle injury in a second division club game on Friday night last and missed the cut.
As far as challenge games go, this one had almost everything. Great saves and some nice passages of play were on display but, from an Armagh point of view, a lot of work remains to be done in the short period before the Red Hands visit the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, June 10.
Down looked more slick and coordinated. They opened up the home defence for three goals from open play and converted twice in the second half from the penalty spot.
James McCartan’s team found scoring a lot easier than their Ulster opponents who were impressive up until they reached their opponents 45 metre line.
Armagh brought a squad of 34 to the Lurgan venue and Paddy O’Rourke handed young Crossmaglen defender James Morgan his senior debut.
With Paul Hearty now in retirement from county football, Middletown’s Niall Geoghan pulled on the keeper’s jersey for the opening period and Philip McAvoy was on duty for the second half.
Rumours that Paul Duffy had left the panel proved to be unfounded, or at least it was only a temporary sabbatical. The Pearse Óg man was in the dugout on Sunday along with a host of other replacements, 13 of whom were utilised in the second half, including Clan na Gael’s Stephan Campbell, Michael Stevenson from the Sarsfields club and Maghery’s Conor Mackle.
Kieran Toner started at midfield alongside James Lavery and the Armagh pair had their work cut out against the physical presence of Calum King and Ambrose Rodgers.
Whilst a lot of places are up for grabs before the provincial campaign reaches full steam, it would be a surprise to see Armagh’s half back line which lined out on Sunday of Dyas, McKeever and Kernan tampered with.
The forwards to face Tyrone would be any six from a possible 12, Jamie Clarke, however, looks a first choice.
A probing and productive Brian Mallon set the Armagh attack alight against Down on Sunday and the home side led on a scoreline of 1-2 to 0-2 on 11 minutes following a John Kingham goal which was knocked into the net after a long delivery from Michael O’Rourke.
Brian Mallon had a spot kick well saved by Harrison in the Down goals on 20 minutes but in the interim period the visitors had hit the net twice, the first goal coming from Danny Hughes who was put through by Calum King.
The second Mourne goal came from Éoin McCartan who abided by the new ‘square-ball’ rules and knocked the ball from the grasp of Armagh ‘keeper Geoghan and into an empty net.
McCartan grabbed Down’s third goal of the first half to leave the score at the short whistle 3-3 to 1-4 in favour of the visitors with Brian Mallon, Kernan and Gavin McPartland the point scorers for Armagh.
Any rhythm built up by the competitors in the opening half soon evaporated with the stop-start nature of events in the second when both managers made wholesale changes.
Attempting to cement a championship place, Armagh points were registered by substitutes Caolan Rafferty (0-2), Michael Stevenson (0-1), Mark Cullen from Pearse Óg and Tony Kernan who knocked over a sweet ‘45’.
The panicky nature of some of the Armagh defending resulted in two penalties being conceded, both of which were duly despatched by Down’s Kevin Duffen but Armagh, to their credit, hit the last four points of the game.
In the end, however, James McCartan’s side were good value for their seven points win.
Credit must be given to both sets of players and their managers, who paid tribute to the fantastic facilities at St Paul’s with their endeavours on a splendid surface and, on a day which bore witness to what is historically a new club who are setting standards in a modern era.