Benji Ward’s Down staged a remarkable comeback at Parnell Park today to land the Tesco Homegrown Ladies National Football League Division 3 title with a 2-06 to 0-11 win over Armagh.
The Mourne County came from seven points down in the second half against their Ulster rivals to gain promotion to Division 2.
Down’s first league crown since their Division 2 success in 2009 was achieved in dramatic fashion as substitutes Sinéad McNamee and Hazel Jordan played key roles.
McNamee created the 49th minute goal for player-of-the-match Kyla Trainor that hauled Down back into contention.
And McNamee was also involved in the move that led to Jordan palming home a priceless 55th minute goal, with her first touch.
That goal handed Down the lead for the very first time in the game – 2-6 to 0-9 – and they held on to the finish against an Armagh team boasting five O’Connor Cup winners.
In a free-laden encounter, Armagh played with the strong wind from the start and despite registering ten first half wides, they led by 0-6 to 0-1 at the break.
And when the Orchard County registered the opening two points of the second half, it appeared that they would claim a first league crown since Division 2 glory in 2005.
But Down hauled themselves back into contention with a steady run of scores and the goals proved crucial.
Ward’s side made maximum use of the wind advantage but even though they were on the back-foot during the first half, they had created the best sight of goal before the break.
Trainor had a goal ruled out in the tenth minute as referee Gus Chapman, who blew for 65 frees during the game, had already signalled for a free-in.
And Trainor was involved again seven minutes later as her close-range shot was superbly blocked by Armagh corner back Caoimhe Morgan, who was one of her team’s best players.
Six points from Sinead McCleary – O’Connor Cup winning captain with Queen’s University Belfast this year – was not enough for Armagh on the day.
McCleary kicked two of those points in the first half, with midfielder and captain Caroline O’Hanlon also prominent for Armagh, who were All-Ireland intermediate champions last year.
Armagh, resigned to at least another year in Division 3, had established a 0-6 to 0-1 lead with 13 minutes on the clock but the remainder of the first half was scoreless.
Scorers for Armagh: S McCleary 0-6 (2f), C O’Hanlon & F McKenna 0-2 each, K Mallon 0-1.
Scorers for Down: K Trainor 1-1, H Jordan 1-0, L Cunningham & N Ferris (2f) 0-2 each, G McClean 0-1f.
ARMAGH: K Daly; C Morgan, L Brown, S Marley; S Reel, N Marley, C McCann; C Malone, C O’Hanlon; M McGuinness, F McKenna, M Tennyson; N Henderson, S McCleary, K Mallon.
Subs: S Grey for Tennyson (47), C Lennon for Mallon (51), M McAlinden for McKenna (56).
DOWN: E Joyce; C McKibben, L Sharvin, O Boyle; E Keane, N McGowan, S Fegan; C Fitzpatrick, M Doherty; G McClean, G Kelly, O Fegan; L Cunningham, K Trainor, N Ferris.
Subs: S McNamee for Kelly (41), C McArdle for Doherty (51), H Jordan for O Fegan (53).
Referee: G Chapman (Sligo).