Positives in Down defeat

January 21, 2013

• Dr. McKenna Cup Down 2-11 Armagh 1-10

For their second outing in the McKenna Cup Armagh manager Paul Grimley continued in experimental mode with just 5 players Kieran Toner, James Donnelly, Niall Rowland, Stephen Harold and Stefan Forker on the starting team against Down at Pairc Esler who started in the defeat to Cavan 5 days earlier.

It was  a slicker fast moving home side that dominated the opening half against their ponderous possession holding visitors. Paul McComiskey, with 3 points from play in the opening 12 minutes ,gave Crossmaglen Rangers Stephen Finnegan a torrid introduction to inter –county football and was replaced after 22 minutes by Ciaran McKeever whose introduction brought a spark of life to the Armagh challenge. McComiskey who finished the game’s top scorer with 1-5 also had a hand in the opening goal after 20 minutes with his point dropping short, enabling Connaire Harrison to out-jump goalkeeper McKeown, to knock the ball into the path of Kevin McKernan who palmed the ball to the net to put Down 1-6 to 0-2 ahead. Points from Michael Stevenson and Armagh’s top performer for the second match running Stefan Forker left the Orchard trailing 1-7 to 0-4 at the short whistle with impressive debutant St Pat’s Gary McCooey having opened the scoring for Armagh with a point after 17 minutes and a Forker free took their tally to two before the closing double accounted for their half-time total.

The sizeable crowd for a Wednesday night looked as if they were going to get a real good game as Armagh got back into contention inside the opening five minutes on the restart. A Stevenson free, a trademark effort from Ciaran McKeever and 2 from top scorer Forker (he finished with 0-6) left it a 2 point game and all to play for. But it was that man McComiskey who brought Down back to life as he pointed from a very acute angled free before being on hand 6 minutes later to fire home a goal which effectively ended the game as a contest on 47 minutes. Not for the first time in the match it was the running through the middle with the ball by Benny Coulter that caused Armagh all sorts of problems and this time he offloaded to the Dundrum man McComiskey and he rattled the net 2-08 to 0-8.

Down first half substitute Conor Laverty converted two frees cancelled out by a brace from Forker before corner back McCooey danced through the Down defence to plant the ball past Cunningham to put a bit of respectability on the scoreboard as Down eased to a semi-final berth where they would take on Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds.

With the opening League match away to Laois on Feb 2 the two McKenna Cup games will have given Paul Grimley and his management team plenty of food for thought with regards to their League panel of players. The new Armagh supremo has lamented the lack of the infusion of “new young blood” over the last few years and looks as if he is going to give some of our talented minor and U-21 starts more game time. Supporters must buy into this plan and give these players a chance over the course of the current League campaign. The League campaign should be judged on a progression rather than a result basis with the Championship opener with Cavan the only goal. The tried and tested seasoned campaigner’s abilities are well known and their best positions are already noted so let the manager give youth it’s fling, it has worked for the best club team in the country and has to be given time to find the right blend once the full squad is at the county managers disposal.

Armagh: C McKeown; S Finnegan, K Toner, G McCooey (1-1); N Rowland, J Donnelly, D McKenna; J Lavery, B Loughran; C Rafferty, S Harold, S Campbell; M Stevenson (0-2), J Kingham, S Forker (0-6, 2f)

Subs: C McKeever (0-1) for Finnegan 22, G McParland for Harold 25, D Carville for Kingham 46, E McVerry for Stevenson 60

Down: M Cunningham; G McAnulty, B McArdle, R Boyle; D Rooney, A Carr, D McKibben; C Gough, K McKernan (1-0); D Turley, M Poland, B Coulter (0-1); L Doyle (0-1, f), C Harrison (0-2), P McComiskey (1-5, 2f)

Subs: C Laverty (0-2, 2f) for Doyle 23, R Mallon for Rooney 47, D O’Hare for Poland (52), A McConville for Gough 54, K Quinn for McArdle 56.