Down exited the Dr McKenna Cup

January 23, 2017

Down exited the Dr McKenna Cup failing to get the draw which would have ensured progression to the semi-finals and another competitive match ahead of the League opener v Fermanagh on 4th February.

It was a mixed bag for Down at the Athletic Grounds – a worrying opening quarter when Armagh bullied them all over the field with a controlled aggression which forced turnover after turnover to gain possession and they kicked some fine points and should have had a couple of goals; it could have been all but over before an Alan Davidson free got Down onto the scoreboard in the twenty-fourth minute.

However, Down hung in there and finished the half with three unanswered points and remained on Armagh’s coat tails before their best player, as he had also been in the previous two matches, Darren O’Hagan fired in a forty-eighth minute goal to leave just a point between the teams.

But Armagh upped their game and scored five of the next six points before Down grabbed a second goal when Alan Davidson finished well under a dropping ball going into added time to leave just the minimum between the teams. Down did have a chance for the equaliser that would have secured qualification but a lack of awareness and composure on the ball saw the opportunity come to nothing and Armagh sub Aaron Findon started and finished the next play which ended with him powering in a thunderous goal.

Ironically neither side qualified at the end of the night and the only upside for Down will be that they can go away and work on a strategy to beat Fermanagh out of the public gaze. There’s no doubt Armagh are further along the rebuilding road than Down; their physique, team play and kick out strategy looked promising; of course Armagh might not have the capacity to improve much more but Down can and they have some catching up to do before the big June Championship meeting in Pairc Esler.

Armagh tore out of the blocks, they made things happen while Down waited for them to happen. They were seven nil up by the twenty-second minutes and their better joined-up play created chance after chance. Attacking wing back Aidan Forker set Ethan Rafferty up for the opening point and then Ben Crealey’s through ball split the Down defence asunder though with the goal gaping Anto Duffy crashed his shot off the bar and over.

Down needed too long on the ball and Armagh were not prepared to give them any time. As the turnovers increased so did the margin between the teams on the scoreboard. Oisin MacIomhair added their third, though Conaill McGovern pulled off a great block which denied him the goal chance, and all the Orchard full forward line had scored.

Three became five when midfielders Stephen Sheridan and Niall Grimley both scored and then Rory Grugan added a free before Sheridan pointed his second and it was all too easy for the home side.

Down had chances during that torrid opening spell but they were few and far between; they were wide from play and from frees and could have had a goal when Darren O’Hagan not for the first time rampaged into the heart of the Armagh defence to create the opening which Pat Havern could not finish, the ball deflected out for a forty-five which came to nothing.

Alan Davidson had a tap over free before Cathal Magee doubled the Down tally from play and they had a let off moments later when Duffy fired a shot off the angle of post and crossbar and later still when Ryan McAleenan’s text book block denied Rafferty. Just on the half time whistle Davidson pointed another free and Down were still in it somehow, trailing by four 0-3 to 0-7.

Down had the better of the early chances on the restart before Rory Grugan extended the home advantage from a forty-third minute free. Two points from Alan Davidson in quick succession left just a goal between the teams before Grugan replied and then in the forty-eighth minute Davidson and Havern combined for Darren O’Hagan to burst in and shoot an unstoppable shot past Morrison and for all their failings Down only trailed by a point. They had the chance to level the match but poor decision making saw it pass them by before Armagh beefed up their centre field presence with the introduction of Aaron Findon.

Grugan soon made it a two-score game again before Barry O’Hagan with a well taken point halved the deficit, however Down shunned a chance to go level and Armagh quickly regained their comfort zone with four successive scores in as many minutes.

Ethan Rafferty pointed the score of the match before Niall Grimley rattled off three points on the trot and Down from being so close now trailed by five with ten minutes remaining.

Caolan Mooney showed a bit of quality to point in reply before subs Danny Savage and Niall McConville exchanged frees and then a high ball into the Armagh square was not dealt with and Davidson picked up the loose leather and put it away with aplomb.

Only a point separated the teams again and Down only needed a point to progress but when the chance came they were again found wanting and Aaron Findon put the result to bed with a rapid length of the field move with a goal at the end of it.