Murnin’s Marshes Magic
● Ulster Senior Football Championship Armagh 2-17 Down 3-13 AET
Andrew Murnin who was introduced for the second period of Extra-Time for his first outing of the year provided the magic touch as he contributed 1-1 to enable Armagh advance to an Ulster semi-final meeting with Cavan by the minimum 2-17 to 3-13 following a pulsating tussle with Down at Pairc Esler.
In a match that had everything and numerous talking points, twists and turns in an eclectic atmosphere at the Marshes. Armagh were 5 points up with as many minutes remaining in the second half of normal play, against the hosts who had played the whole second half without the red carded (just before the short whistle) Caolan Mooney. A Donal Ó’Hare goal was followed by points from Paul Devlin and a terrific leveller from James Guinness saw Down take the game to extra-time.
Back to 15 men for the 10 minutes a side extra-time Down who brought in Ryan Mallon for the red carded Mooney remained in the ascendancy as they took a 3 point lead as Paul Devlin, match leveller Guinness with his fist and Barry Ó’Hagan took the Down tally to 2-13 but crucially failed to push on for more scores. Ryan Kennedy rifled a snap shot goal chance over the crossbar for his second point of the game which was to be the only Orchard score in the first period of extra-time.
Murnin replaced Greg McCabe as Armagh asserted control as the last extra 10 minutes commenced. Another Armagh substitute Stefan Campbell lofted over his second point to reduce the deficit to the minimum before Murnin signaled his arrival by booming over the equalizing point after Armagh had chalked up 2 more wides. Murnin then rose to flick a Rian Ó’Neill delivery to the Down net in off the post followed by an eight point of the game for championship debutant Rian Ó’Neill and Armagh had scored 1-4 without reply to go 4 points clear. The drama was not over yet as another impressive Armagh championship debutant Jarly Óg Burns deflected the ball into his own net to give the host a last gasp lifeline but crucially Down were unable to gain possession from the kick-out and soon after Wicklow referee Anthony Nolan sounded the long whistle. Kieran McGeeney had achieved his first Ulster SFC win as Armagh boss at the end of a most dramatic contest.
There was plenty of talk among both sets of supporters ahead of this local derby especially after both managers had named their starting 15. Kieran McGeeney blended youth with experience as he handed championship debuts to Jarlath óg Burns, Rian Ó’Neill, Ryan Kennedy and Aidan Nugent and no starting spot for Stefan Campbell. Paddy Tally was true to his word when he said he would introduce new talent to the Mourne squad and handed full Ulster SFC debuts to Rory Burns, Daniel McGuinness, Conor Francis and Pat Havern.
A tit for tat point for point cagey opening 17 minutes saw the sides level at 4-4. Rian O’Neill opened the scoring for Armagh but a Donal O’Hare free restored parity before a second from play by Ó’Neill was cancelled by one from Jermoe Johnston. Jamie Clarke pointed the visitors in front but Conor Poland levelled before Armagh substitute James Morgan introduced after 7 minutes for the injured Paddy Burns regained the lead for the Orchard but the sides were level for the fourth time once Connaire Harrison hit the target. A third from play from Ó’Neill edged Armagh back in front but 2 minutes later Pat Havern got on the end of a Gerard Collins punt to flick the ball to the Armagh net and Down lead for the first time. Donal Ó’Hare with a point extends the Down lead only for Jamie Clarke to reply with his second minor as the games goes into added time which provided the games major talking point as Caolan Mooney saw red for his challenge on Aidan Nugent. In the light of the whole contest Down will feel agreeved by the colour of the card but all refs were given warning to clamp down on high challenges by the powers that be before the championship commenced. To add to Down’s woes a Rian Ó’Neill free had the deficit down to the minimum 0-7 to 1-5 as the half-time whistle sounded.
Two minutes after the restart Aidan Nugent pointed Armagh level as Pat Havern and Ó’Neill traded points to make it 0-9 to 1-6 and some 7 minutes later Jerome Johnston edged Down back in front. Down goalkeeper Rory Burns soloed out from goals lost possession and then got a sudden rush of blood to the head and pulled down Jamar Hall to receive a Black card and was replaced by Mark Hynes. Hynes first introduction was a kick-out following an Ó’Neill leveller, his second was the same after Ryan Kennedy had put Armagh back in front but his third involvement was the most painful as he had to pick the ball out of the net after half hour substitute Mark Shields planted the ball in his net. Another sub Stefan Campbell took Armagh tally to 1-3 without reply and a 5 point cushion 1-12 to 1-7 after 55 minutes. On the hour mark Conor Francis pointed a fleeting Down goal chance but the reply was instant as Ó’Neill was on target from a free before the already outline terrific Down fightback occurred to give us more value for money in a pulsating far from boring contest which had been predicted by many beforehand.
A place in the championship semi-final against Cavan who caused a surprise by beating Monaghan will please manager McGeeney as his team showed great character to get back into the contest having thrown away the initiative. To his credit he mixed the young with the old got the substitutions (of which there were a lot), right and has deservedly got the monkey off his back. By not scoring 7 or 8 very scorable frees Armagh made life very difficult for themselves but championship is all about winning and learning as you go along. It’s an Ulster semi-final on June 2 for the Orchard boys with the possibility of their manager being in the stands.
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; R Kennedy (0-2), B Donaghy, A Forker; C Vernon, J Og Burns; A Nugent (0-1), E Rafferty, J Hall; R Grugan, R O’Neill (0-8), J Clarke (0-2).
Subs: J Morgan (0-1) for Burns 5, M Shields (1-0) for Vernon 30, J McElroy for Hughes 45, S Campbell (0-2) for Rafferty 46, M Hughes on for Burns (51), S Sheridan for Kennedy 64, G McCabe for Burns 68, B Crealey for Sheridan 77, A Murnin 0-1
Down: R Burns; D O’Hagan, R Wells, G Collins; R McAleenan, K McKernan, D Guinness; C Mooney, C Poland (0-1); C Francis (0-1), J Johnston (0-1), C Maginn; P Havern (1-1), D O’Hare (0-2), C Harrison (0-1).
Subs: M Hynes, C Flanagan, P Laverty, R Mallon, J Guinness (0-2) for Wells 26, C McGrady, B O’Hagan (0-1) for Maginn 48, P Devlin (0-2) for Johnston 71, C Quinn for O’Hare 71, O McCabe (0-1) for Poland 78, A Murnin 1-1.