Relegation fears grow

Armagh's Ciaran Rafferty in action with Down.
Armagh's Ciaran Rafferty in action with Down.

Armagh were dealt a cruel blow at the end of their National Football League derby against Ulster rivals Down who caught the home side on the finishing line with a Mark Polin goal which arrived deep into injury time.

The experiment of playing the game on a Friday night brought out a crowd of just over 5,000 which was well down on the 11,436 which attended the corresponding fixture last season, the fact that the game went out live on Setanta Ireland and considering the horrible conditions it was no surprise that a lot of fans stayed at home.

The participating players from both sides didn’t have that luxury and their endeavours would have to be complimented on a night which saw both sides having to thaw out in hot showers during the half time break.

Armagh boss Paul Grimley was deeply disappointed with the result but praised his players.

“Had the game been halted at half time no one would have complained,” said the Armagh boss.

“The conditions were as bad as I have witnessed both as a player and a manager. They were horrible, but as a manager I can only praise the players who give it their all for the seventy minutes.”

With the home side dominating a lot of the exchanges in the opening half with a gale force wind at their backs it was vital that Grimley’s side build up a big lead before the short whistle.

Armagh lead by just three at the break, they struck for a brilliantly worked goal from Kevin Dyas who broke through the heart of the visitors defence on the end of a move involving McKeever, Campbell and Robbie Tasker. The Cullyhanna player however was dismissed with a straight red card near the end following an incident with a Down defender, referee Michael Coldrick despite a lengthy plead of innocence from the player, after consultation with both Umpires handed Tasker a minimum four week suspension.

In suspending the league for one week to allow a window which accommodates the pending All Ireland Club semi finals, the GAA have provided the Armagh squad with the opportunity to regroup before they travel to Meath the weekend after next,the mention of which forced the County boss to cringe.

Grimley said, “There are no easy games in this Division but travelling to Meath is a particularly tough assignment for the players. We will just have to dust ourselves down and get back at it.”

Despite the fact his side had created at least five clear cut goal opportunities against Down, Grimley stressed that he teams points tally wasn’t enough at this stage of the season.

“We would have to be pleased at the amount of chances we are creating, but its all about the points on the board. We are looking at relegation unless we can get something from the Meath game,” he stressed.

It would be cruel on the Armagh players if the fans judged them on last Friday nights performance, which should be quickly buried with the passing of time.

With the first half ending with Armagh in front on four scores to three, the Kevin Dyas goal and points from Jamie Clarke, Tony Kernan and the splendid Ethan Rafferty were responded to by the visitors through conversions by Donal O’Hare at the double and a great effort from Kevin McKernan who along with Armagh’s majestic Ciaran McKeever both competed in the adversity of the conditions for the man of the match award. the accolade belonged to the St. Patrick’s player.

The home side had their best period following the break and against the wind, Grimley’s men battled for every ball but disaster struck when Mark Polin hit the first of his two goals, the Mourne striker exploited the fact Armagh full back Charlie Vernon had been pulled out of position just three minutes after the break.

During the tie Armagh had several opportunities, Robbie Tasker screamed an effort over the bar in the first half and following a fortunate goal by Tony Kernan which lobbed over the head of Down keeper Shane Harrison. Stefan Campbell broke clear in the final quarter but his effort also grazed the bar with his side a point in front.Subsitute Eoin McCartan knocked over a fisted effort to put one between the teams at he end of normal time and Mark Polin’s late strike from close range proved rough justice for an Armagh side which at least deserved share of the points.

With tough games against Meath, Laois, Monaghan and Donegal to follow, relegation is a real prospect for Grimley’s side who need to bring home both points from the Royal County.