Poacher Poland pinches points

February 10, 2014

Just when it looked like 14 man Armagh were going to preserve their 29 year league winning sequence over neighbours Down at the Athletic Grounds, Marc Poland pounced for his second goal to grab two precious points for the Mournemen.

Indeed the added time at the end of both halves was to prove very costly for Armagh as Down added two late first half points to go in only trailing 1-3 to 0-3 and Poland whose goal 90 seconds after the restart drew Down level, poached his second green flag on 71 minutes to grab a 2-7 to 2-5 victory.

The Friday night, live on Setanta Sports, experiment drew a crowd of 5,557 spectators despite the driving wind and rain which prevailed throughout to 70 minutes. The conditions made it a war of attrition more than a football match as both sides sought their opening league win, having both salvaged comeback draws in their opening round fixtures.

Kevin McKernan was to be the only Mourne change for the Division Two game but Brendan McArdle replaced Darren O’Hanlon from the side that started in the 1-11 to 0-14 draw with Monaghan just before the throw-in. Armagh made five changes after their opening 1-13 to 0-16 draw against Louth, with Captain Ciaran McKeever back in defence. Ciaran Rafferty, Stephen Harold, Brian Mallon and Kevin Dyas were also drafted into the Orchard line-up by manager Paul Grimley.

Weather conditions dictated that the game would literally be one of two halves with the wind and rain assisted side dominating the respective halves, and so it transpired. While the late sucker punch from Poland scuppered the home hopes, it was to be their first half wastefulness (8 wides, 5 dropped short into the keepers hands) coupled with four second half goal chances passed up that told the telling facts.

Following a brace of wides, a third minute short “45” by Tony Kernan to Ciaran Rafferty opened the home scoring which was added to a minute later as Jamie Clarke was fouled during a flowing four man move enabling Tony Kernan to double the lead. A barren 9 minute spell was broken with Donal O’Hare from a free opening the Down account on 13 minutes. It was another 10 minutes before the next score arrived as a smart pick up and turn from Clarke saw him dissect the posts for a 3-1 lead. The games leading player, Armagh Captain McKeever linked up with Dyas and Tasker who interchanged with Dyas who marked his return to the county colours with a timely well taken 27th minute goal. As the clock was hoisted to show 3 added minutes Down burst through in the form of midfielder McKernan who fired over their second point. A foolish short kick-out from keeper Philip McEvoy was intercepted and a Down foul was converted by Donal O’Hare to leave just a goal between them. Before the short whistle sounded Armagh registered two more wides to take their tally to 8.

A delayed start to the second half (referee equipment malfunction and an opportunity to don drier gear for the teams) was to prove costly for Armagh inside 90 seconds. Niall Madine and Poland combined to set up O’Hare whose goal attempt was brilliantly stopped by McEvoy in the Armagh nets but the ball hanging in the air after the save was punched to the net by Poland and the teams were level. Down then went in front for the first time when Conor Maginn flicked a poorly kicked “45”, from his goalkeeper Shane Harrison, over the bar.

A quickly taken free by Tony Kernan freed Robbie Tasker in one on one with the Down custodian but the normally reliable cool finisher, fired over the crossbar to level at 1-4 apiece on 42 minutes. Following good work by Ryan Boyle who was to become an unwarranted central figure Down went back in front as he set up McKernan for his second point of the night. As Armagh replaced Brian Mallon with Stefan Forker referee David Coldrick brandished a few cards. Ryan Mallon saw Black replaced by Ryan Johnston, Jamie Clarke got a yellow following the intervention of the umpire and Ciaran Rafferty got a yellow before being replaced by Rory Grugan just after Armagh got their second goal. Substitute Johnston had an immediate effect by setting up Madine for a point as Down doubled their lead 1-6 to 1-4. Daniel McCartan, the Down corner-back, was called ashore to get another forward Darragh O’Hanlon on the field.

A point attempt from Tony Kernan came floating high towards the Down goal, with Stephan Harold close at hand to distract goalkeeper Harrison it looked to me that the ball bounced into the net without any contact from Harold. Armagh’s goal joy that regained them the lead 2-4 to 1-6 as Coldrick was called in to another off the ball incident in around the Down square. This time round the colour of the card changed with Robbie Tasker receiving a red card in the 57th minute in an off-the-ball incident that no one in the press box knew what it was for. It was really going to be backs to the wall stuff for the home side from then to the finish. To their credit 14 man Armagh knuckled down to produce two goal chances that yielded but a single point. Tony Kernan brought a great save out of Harrison. Stefan Campbell after a near 50 yard run was in front of Harrison but elected to fist over the bar to extend the lead to 2 points 2-5 to 1-6 with 5 minutes left on the clock. Down introduced Eoin McCartan for Boyle and the Burren man marked his introduction with a 71st minute point to reduce the deficit to the minimum.

Down, who were well on top in the last 10 minutes came in search of the equalizer from the kick out but were rewarded with even more as the hitherto solid home defence was breached for the second time with the Longstone player and Down Captain playing his part by calmly slotting home the winning goal past a helpless McEvoy. On the night that was in it, and the way the game went, a second draw for both sides would have been the fairest result. But as it stands after two rounds of fixtures Down can look forward to a promotion push whilst Armagh are certainly in a relegation battle, when the league resumes on Saturday March 1. Armagh travel to Meath while Down host Louth.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, P Hughes; M Shields, C McKeever, C Rafferty (0-1); S Harold , E Rafferty; S Campbell (0-1), K Dyas (1-0), B Mallon; J Clarke (0-1), T Kernan (1-1), R Tasker (0-1). Subs: S Forker for B Mallon (51); R Grugan for C Rafferty (57); N McConville for Clarke (71); A Findon for Harold (73).

DOWN: S Harrison; D McCartan, P Turley, D O’Hagan; R Boyle, A Carr, C Garvey; K McKernan (0-2), R Mallon; B McArdle, M Poland (2-0), J Johnston; D O’Hare (0-2, 2f), N Madine (0-1), C Maginn (0-1). Subs: R Johnston for Mallon (Black Card 49); D O’Hanlon for D McCartan (51); E McCartan (0-1) for Boyle (67); B Coulter for Madine (73).

REF: David Coldrick (Meath).