Survival boost for Armagh as Mckeever inspires
Armagh Down 1-14 0-16
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.
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.