Sur­vival boost for Ar­magh as Mckeever in­spires

Ar­magh Down 1-14 0-16

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - National Hurling League Gaelic Games -

com­ing on top of Colm Mcfad­den’s in­abil­ity to start be­cause of a ham­string twinge to leave the team short of at­tack­ing tar­gets.

Dublin’s de­fence played well, with Rory O’car­roll hav­ing a great tus­sle with Mur­phy un­der the high ball and forc­ing the Done­gal cap­tain to do his best work far­ther out. Cian O’sul­li­van’s re­turn also ben­e­fited the de­fence, with his mo­bil­ity and in­tel­li­gence on the ball a source of re­as­sur­ance.

Gil­roy had his own prob­lems, los­ing Ger Bren­nan (un­well) and Foot­baller of the Year Alan Bro­gan (calf strain) in the first half. But among the pos­i­tives for Dublin were the de­cent ef­forts of Dean Kelly, lively and elu­sive run­ning at the de­fence, and Dean Rock, whose work-rate was an as­set once he over­came an ini­tial ten­dency to wan­der into traf­fic.

Dur­can was a key in­flu­ence on Done­gal and made two crit­i­cal saves, from Ea­mon Fen­nell and Kevin Mcmana­mon, to pre­vent goals. Clux­ton did his bit as well in the other goal and be­yond – kick­ing an im­por­tant free in the 58th minute, fi­nally giv­ing Dublin a lead they never lost – mak­ing a smart save from Paddy Mcbrearty, un­der pres­sure be­cause of the lack of sup­port in the full for­wards, who had gath­ered from An­thony Thompson and turned quickly to get in a shot that would have cut the mar­gin to one with five min­utes left.

Dublin moved most im­pres­sively in the first half. Fen­nell’s im­prove­ment at cen­tre­field con­tin­ued and his phys­i­cal pres­ence in the mid­dle made life harder for Done­gal. Be­side him Michael Dar­ragh Ma­cauley was im­mense in the first half, in­volv­ing him­self in 18 pos­ses­sions that con­trib­uted to nearly half of Dublin’s scores and turn­ing over the ball just once. His loss of fo­cus in the sec­ond half – turn­ing over a third of his pos­ses­sions – was symp­to­matic of the team’s.

Done­gal could have also scored more be­fore half-time, drop­ping three shots into Clux­ton’s grate­ful paws to go with two wides.

They hit the ground run­ning af­ter the break, how­ever, and had squared the 0-5 to 0-9 deficit within eight min­utes of the restart.

Mcmana­mon, whose in­dus­try, ag­gres­sion on the ball and will­ing­ness to take on de­fend­ers made for a fine per­for­mance, re­stored the lead im­me­di­ately af­ter a lovely flick-on from Con­nolly and although Done­gal came again to tie the match at 0-11 each Dublin re­dis­cov­ered their ur­gency.

Cullen’s goal – strongly run­ning on to Ma­cauley’s pass to out-run the flag­ging de­fence and fin­ish­ing with a thump­ing shot to the net – was de­served af­ter a hard shift

ball and or­ches­trat­ing win­ning at­tacks.

Dublin have a play-off place in their sights whereas Done­gal’s final con­test will have im­pli­ca­tions at the other end of the ta­ble.

A video trib­ute to the late Jim Stynes was shown be­fore Satur­day’s match. The at­ten­dance for the foot­ball/hurl­ing dou­ble header was 23,855. DUBLIN: S Clux­ton (0-1, free); C O’sul­li­van, R O’car­roll, P Mcma­hon; J Cooper (0-1), G Bren­nan, K Nolan; E Fen­nell (0-1), MD Ma­cauley (0-1); P Flynn (0-1), A Bro­gan (0-1), B Cullen (capt; 1-1); T Quinn (0-1), D Con­nolly (1-3, two points frees), K Mcmana­mon (0-3). Subs: S Mur­ray for Bren­nan (25 mins), D Rock (0-1) for Bro­gan (30 mins), D Kelly (0-1) for Quinn (half-time), C Dias for Cooper (59 mins). DONE­GAL: P Dur­can; F Mcg­lynn, N Mcgee (0-1), P Mcgrath; A Thompson (0-1), K Lacey, L Mcloone (0-1); C Toye (0-1), N Gal­lagher; M O’reilly, R Bradley, M Mchugh, P Mcbrearty (0-1, free), M Mur­phy (0-6, three frees and 45), M Mcel­hin­ney (0-1); Subs: D Walsh (0-1) for O’reilly (30 mins), E Mcgee for Toye (54 mins), A Han­lon for Mur­phy (59 mins), D Mclaugh­lin for Bradley (64 mins). Ref­eree: E Kin­sella (Laois). AR­MAGH BOOSTED their hopes of Di­vi­sion One sur­vival in the most dra­matic cir­cum­stances when they edged past neigh­bours Down by a point in a thrilling show­down at the Mor­gan Ath­letic Grounds.

They may have en­dured a trau­matic week off the field in the build-up to the tie but on the night Ciarán Mckeever found him­self in the spot­light for all the right rea­sons when his in­spir­ing lead­er­ship and sub­lime equal­is­ing point that pre­ceded Michael Steven­son’s win­ner con­firmed sport­ing ro­mance is alive and well.

The Or­chard County’s flir­ta­tion with rel­e­ga­tion is nonethe­less still a live is­sue, while Down’s fo­cus re­mains on a semi-final slot and should the teams repli­cate this form in the final sched­uled leagues games they may both achieve their re­spec­tive short­term goals.

Cer­tainly a game rich in skill, high in in­ten­sity and gar­nished with sev­eral tow­er­ing in­di­vid­ual dis­plays hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity of bet­ter things to come.

Ar­magh man­ager Paddy O’rourke is tak­ing noth­ing for granted, though.

“We came into this game against a dif­fi­cult back­drop but we now have got two valu­able points. I thought the team’s ap­pli­ca­tion and char­ac­ter in a de­mand­ing sit­u­a­tion were im­mense. But there is still work to be done if we want to stay in the top bracket,” said a re­lieved O’rourke af­ter the final whis­tle.

Ar­magh’s brisk start pro­pelled them into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead with 10 min­utes gone, Steven­son quickly stamp­ing his im­print on pro­ceed­ings by con­vert­ing two frees, while Am­brose Rogers was equally sharp in lay­ing down a marker at mid­field for the vis­i­tors.

But Ar­magh were to suf­fer two ma­jor set­backs be­fore the in­ter­val when first Peter Car­ragher was stretchered of with a sus­pected bro­ken leg and then his re­place­ment, Rory Gru­gan, was helped off with a ham­string prob­lem.

And had it not been for goal­keeper Philip Mcevoy who made stun­ning saves from Rogers and the lively Eoin Mccar­tan, Ar­magh might have found them­selves fac­ing a moun­tain­ous task.

As it was they were just one point in ar­rears at the break, Down hav­ing bossed the last 10 min­utes of the open­ing half when Ai­dan Carr took his tally of pointed frees to four.

But it was when the sides were dead­locked at 0-10 each in the 46th minute that Ar­magh plun­dered a psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tage when the in­flu­en­tial Brian Mallon drilled home from a penalty af­ter ref­eree David Coldrick pe­nalised a Down foot-block.

When Caolan Raf­ferty hoisted Ar­magh into the lead again, Mark Poland thun­dered over two fine scores to set the tone for the vis­i­tors’ an­tic­i­pated gal­lop down the home straight.

But in a fairy­tale end­ing MCKeever pi­loted over a spec­tac­u­lar score from the right touch­line be­fore the ice-cool Steven­son plun­dered an in­jury-time win­ning point.

Pho­to­graph: Cathal Noonan/inpho

Dublin’s Michael Dar­ragh Ma­cauley (left) and Christy Toye of Done­gal bat­tle for pos­ses­sion dur­ing the Al­lianz Na­tional Foot­ball League Di­vi­sion One en­counter at Croke Park.

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