HomeFootballArmagh book Ulster football final return after fiery affair against Down

Armagh book Ulster football final return after fiery affair against Down


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Ulster SFC semi-final: Armagh 0-13 Down 2-6

Armagh may have booked their place in the Ulster senior football championship final but they certainly did it the hard way in this tempestuous, rugged semi-final in front of 12,116 fans at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones on Saturday.

With exchanges fraught for the most part, silken skills were limited with the emphasis throughout instead on gaining possession – and attempting to retain it – at all costs.

It was nip and tuck in the first half with a brace of Rian O’Neill points complementing a similar contribution from Aidan Forker, while Rory Grugan was on target from a free to ensure that the Orchard County were level with the Mournemen, who had a Ceilum Doherty goal along withpoints from Shealan Johnston and Pat Havern at the halfway stage.

But if referee Liam Devenney found himself somewhat overworked in the first half, then he was taxed to the limit in the second period as both teams cemented their air of physicality in an intense battle.

A second Down goal from Ryan Magill that thrust his side into a 2-4 to 0-8 lead spawned the belief they might reign supreme and when Ryan Johnston and Havern pounced for points, Conor Laverty’s side appeared to have gained a new lease of life.

But a triple points blast from Rory Grugan (free), Oisín O’Neill and Aidan Nugent confirmed Armagh’s sustained self-belief and when substitute Jason Duffy swept over what proved to be a spectacular winning point in added time he sealed his team’s passport into their second successive final.

Manager Kieran McGeeney, clearly relieved at the finish, is already focusing on what he hopes will be a change of fortune in the provincial decider following his side’s lapse against Derry in last year’s penalty shoot-out.

“I was really impressed by the way in which my side kept their composure under a lot of stress in this semi-final,” said McGeeney afterwards. “We have lost a lot of games such as this over the course of recent years so it was really encouraging to get over the line. I am just thrilled for the boys. It’s going to be a big step up for us in the Ulster final because we might be coming up against a different style of football.

“When the going gets tough it’s very important that you keep your composure and don’t respond. It’s a game within a game, you know.”

“We are going to come up against different opponents in the Ulster final than we did last year and we have to be prepared for that. Sport can be very cruel at times such as it was last year for us but you have to make the big effort to come out on the right side of the line. That’s what is crucial.

“Obviously we will be looking for a better performance in the Ulster final but if we get over the line that’s all that will matter on the day.”

Down boss Conor Laverty admitted that his team had prepared diligently for the game and had hoped to come good.

“We totally believed in our game plan but coming down the straight we were just unable to tag on another few scores,” he observed. “That’s really what left us coming up short at the end of the day. At this level you have to be so, so clinical when it comes to finishing.

“We have known that but this is one area in which we have to improve going forward. We’re working hard at it and the players are applying themselves well to this.

“We had the chance to get a couple of late scores but it was heartbreaking not to have made those opportunities count.”

ARMAGH: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; J McElroy, C Mackin, A Forker (0-2); R O’Neill (0-3, 1f), B Crealey; S Campbell, R Grugan (0-5, 5f) O Conaty; C Turbitt, A Murnin, Jarly Óg Burns.

Subs: J Duffy (0-1) for Crealey (49 mins), O O’Neill (0-1, mark) for J Burns (53), D McMullen for Campbell (60), A Nugent (0-1) for Conaty (65).

DOWN: J O’Hare; P Fegan, R McEvoy, C Doherty (1-0); M Rooney, P Laverty, S Johnston; J Flynn, O Murdock; D Guinness (0-1), R Magill (1-1), J Guinness; R Johnston (0-1), F McElroy, Pat Havern (0-2, 2f), F McElroy.

Subs: L Kerr for James Guinness (h-t), D Magill (0-1) for Flynn (42 mins), B O’Hagan for Rooney (52), O Savage for Havern (60), S Annett for O’Hagan (65).

Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo).

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