Young hurlers win thriller

Young hurlers win thriller

10 April 2019

TEN minutes into the second half in this epic encounter, Armagh were ahead by five points and had just been awarded a penalty against a Down team that had been reduced to 14 players just before half-time. Lee Murtagh’s strike was low and hard, but Cahal Lavery was equal to it and pulled off an inspirational save. 

Within minutes Down had goaled through Francis Caldwell and all of a sudden Down had woken up and they went on to edge a thriller in Middletown to top their Ulster group.

Down got the start they wanted after three minutes when a high ball was floated into the square and Caldwell’s overhead pull saw the sliotar fly past Caolan McCann in the Armagh goal. 

Unfortunately, for the Red and Black, this was to be their last score for over 20 minutes as Armagh began to get to grips with Down’s style of play.

In response, Armagh hit the front with a Lee Murtagh goal and some fine scores off the sticks of Oisín O’Hare, Conor Rafferty and Aidan Harney. Armagh had a real jewel in their attack with captain Shea Harvey causing the Down rearguard some serious problems.

Down centre half back James Duggan and midfielder Imran Hussain had excellent games and continued to press the Armagh lines at every opportunity. 

However, Armagh seemed to boss their neighbours and had control of the game firmly within their grasp. When Hussain scored Down’s second point of the half with 24 minutes on the clock, Armagh had built up a healthy lead of six points. 

The next five minutes saw the sides trade scores with Rafferty, Murtagh and O’Hare responding to points from Down’s Oisín Coulter and Eamon Blaney. 

With the game fast approaching the break, disaster struck the Mourne side when Aodhán Furlong was asked to walk by referee Kevin Parke after a midfield tussle resulted in a helmet infringement and a straight red card. 

The half ended with Armagh, having played with the wind firmly in control, leading their visitors by 1-4 to 1-10.

Down, who would have been most people’s favourites in their group, made a raft of changes at half-time with Owen McDermott coming into shore up the half back line and Finn Collins going to the centre of the park, amongst other tactical switches. 

Armagh were quickly out of the blocks and a fine score from Rafferty was answered with a tight-angled point from outside the 20-metre line by Jon Fisher. 

Murtagh and Duggan traded scores with the sides locked in battle. In the tenth minute a scramble for the sliotar inside the Down 14 led to an Armagh player being illegally impeded and when Kevin Parke blew the whistle, there was an air of relief from the Armagh support as they sensed that Down’s fight back could be quelled. 

Up stepped Murtagh with the chance to send the home side eight points clear.

Inspired by this wonderful save Down went straight on the attack with Down’s best and fairest winner, Francis Caldwell, being instrumental to the Mourne county’s change of fortune, pouncing for the second of his three goals. 

All of a sudden, the tempo of the game changed up into fifth gear and the visitors found a new belief in themselves. 

Caldwell pointed from a close range free and a minute later added another from play.

Armagh refused to give up and with Lee Murtagh once more pointing for the Orchard lads there was only three points separating these two round one winners from last week. 

With 22 minutes gone Down were awarded a free 35m from goal, Eoin Magee struck the sliotar, but the wind carried the shot to the left, it hit the post high up and when it rebounded back into play, Ciarán Savage doubled on it as it hopped nicely in front of him.

The sliotar flew into the roof of the net and Down were finally level. A minute later James Duggan gathered possession deep in his own half he set off like a gazelle straight down the middle to ping the sliotar over from 50m out. 

After Murtagh once more levelled from a free, Duggan repeated the feat again for the lead.

With only three minutes on the clock Caldwell effectively put the game out of reach with his final goal of the day, followed by a point straight from the puck out. 

Craobh Rua’s Oisín O’Hare got his sides last two scores, but it wasn’t enough as Caldwell once more tapped the sliotar over the crossbar for the final point of the day.

Manger JP Napier acknowledged that Down were fortunate winners in this epic encounter and congratulated his players and Armagh for an excellent and enjoyable contest. 

After the game Kevin Parke awarded Francis Caldwell of Down and Shea Harvey of Armagh with their best and fairest medals.

Down: Cahal Lavery, Eoin Pucci, Darragh Kelly, Jack Lee, Ciaran Savage, James Duggan (0-3), Lukas Boyd, Niall Husarz, Imran Hussain (0-1), Jon Fisher (0-1), Mathew Malone, Eoin Magee, Eamon Blaney (0-1), Francis Caldwell (3-3), Oisín Coulter (0-2). Subs: Aodhán Furlong, Finn Collins, Tom McGrattan, Ciaran Savage (1-0), Ethan Bell, Owen McDermott, Ryan O’Neill.

Armagh: Caolan McCann, Fiacra Moore, Adam Murtagh, Aaron O’Neill, Fiantan Oliver, Caolan McReynolds, Kane Laverty, Adam O’Neill, Aidan Harney (0-1), Adam Markey (0-1), Oisín O’Hare (0-4), Conor Rafferty (0-3), Shea Harvey, Lee Murtagh (1-7), Ronan Davidson.

Down 4-11

Armagh 1-16