Super subs secure stalemate

February 25, 2013

*Allianz Football League Division II Armagh 3-8 Wexford 3-8

The pre-match run up to this re-fixed Division Two league game at the Athletic Grounds between Armagh and Wexford was dominated by the make up of the Armagh bench. Manager Paul Grimley kept faith with the starting 15 players named for the postponed fixture and declined to add the available Crossmaglen trio of Aaron & Tony Kernan and Jamie Clarke to his bench. The manager’s trust in his bench was rewarded in the most sensational fashion as a hat-trick of goals from substitute Gavin McParland and an added on time, last gasp point from another substitute Stefan Campbell gave Armagh a share of the points having found themselves 11 points in arrears towards the end of the first half.

The Armagh comeback was stunning, as was the opening half, which produced only eight scores in total with 50 % of them goals. Having lost the opening league game away to Laois, Paul Grimley brought in Declan McKenna, Barry Loughran, Stephen Harold, Eugene McVerry and Niall McConville  to the starting fifteen in place of Gary McCooey, Finian Moriarty, James Lavery, Gavin McParland and Kevin Dyas.

The changes looked as if they were going to cost the manager dearly especially in the opening 25 minutes as the visitors led 3-2 to a solitary Stefan Forker point on 10 minutes for Armagh. The Armagh defence were all at sea as the Model County, with Ben Brosnan to the fore dismantled them with ease. Paddy Byrne eluded his marker before raising the first green flag by blasting past a helpless Philip Mc Evoy.

The Dromintee custodian was again picking out of the back of the net as Redmond Barry fired a penalty past him after he was fouled by Aidan Forker. Yet another defensive error, this time from Mark Shields, led to the Orchard net bouncing for the third time as Shane Roche netted past a now bewildered McEvoy who was once again left totally exposed.

Grimley reacted to the mountain that had to be climbed by introducing three subs on the half hour mark. James Lavery, Gavin McParland and Brendan Donaghy were brought on for Stephen Harold, Niall McConville and Eugene McVerry, ironically not one of them a defender despite the scoreline. The re-shuffled outfit grabbed a lifeline two minutes before the short whistle as substitute McParland rifled, left footed, past Anthony Masterson for the home sides first score for 22 minutes. It looked as if all it was going to do was take the bad look off things as Armagh trailed 3-1 to 1-1 as they headed for the sanctuary of the dressing room.

Akin to the Laois game, after the re-start, Armagh with nothing to lose came out with all guns blazing with a brace of point from Stefan Forker followed by a couple of bad misses that were punished by a brace from Brosnan as the visitors looked to consolidate their position. Armagh kept plugging away, chipping into the Wexford lead via points from Ethan Rafferty and Aidan Forker but were still 9 points behind with a quarter of an hour left on the clock. Cue McParland for his second goal, with a 20 yard strike and three minutes later the fat was in the fire as he completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot following a foul on James Lavery, to leave it 3-8 to 3-5. Armagh piled forward at every opportunity and were rewarded with a fisted point from Barry Loughran followed by a converted Stefan Forker free to leave the minimum between the teams. Just when it seemed that the clock was going to run out on Armagh, as Wexford lost Quinlavan to a second yellow, Campbell, on for Toner, saved the day with a last gasp leveller to give Armagh their first league point after an incredible comeback.

Armagh – P McEvoy; M Shields, J Donnelly, D McKenna; K McKeever, A Forker (0-1), B Loughran (0-1); S Harold, K Toner; C Rafferty, N McConville, E Rafferty (0-1); E McVerry, S Forker (0-4, 3f), B Mallon. Subs: J Lavery for Harold, G McParland (3-0, 1 pen) for McConville, B Donaghy for McVerry, K Dyas for Mallon, S Campbell (0-1) for Toner.

Wexford – A Masterson; B Malone, G Molloy, R Tierney; L Chin, J Wadding, A Flynn; D Waters, C Doyle; M Furlong, B Brosnan (0-5, 4f), P Byrne (1-0); S Roche (1-1, 0-1f), R Barry (1-0, pen), P J Banville (0-2). Subs: R Quinlivan for Doyle, J Holmes for Furlong, D Murphy for Flynn.

Next up are Longford

Next up for Armagh are Longford at the Athletic Grounds next Saturday night, with Michael Duffy as referee. The match will be televised live on Satanta but more importantly it has taken the mantle of a relegation battle even this early in the league campaign.

It is the meeting of the bottom two teams as visitors Longford come seeking their first points following two opening defeats. With Louth beating Galway in the other re-arranged game, the point gained by Wexford moves them into second place, all alone on 3 points, one behind outright leaders Westmeath who have two wins (4 pts). The other 4 counties above Armagh in the table Galway, Louth, Derry, Laois are all on two points.

With home games against Louth and Galway to come and away trips to Derry and Westmeath the importance of victory on Saturday night cannot be understated. The need for wins will put added pressure on Armagh management to field the best available side at their disposal. Jamie Clarke 2-1 (one a pen) and a pointed free from Aaron Kernan helped Ulster under manager Joe Kernan be crowned M Donnelly Inter-provincial football champions for the third year in succession as they beat  Leinster at Croke Park 3-12 to 0-17. Ciaran McKeever was also in the Ulster starting 15.

The Armagh management’s idea to blood new talent is admirable and needed but at what cost. In the opening two league games it has been sheer guts and determination that has taken Armagh back into two matches in which they were totally over-run for long periods at different stages. The draw back for me is that there seems to be no structure to the play, no system or style of play being developed. Maybe now that the near full panel of players, that one suspects will be in the championship frame are becoming available management will be able to fit the pieces together to produce more cohesive structured performances.

While the Armagh comeback was terrific and stunning it does not say much for Wexford who squandered an 11 point lead. This is the same Wexford side that trailed Longford by 7 points in the opening day of the league but snatched victory with a late goal.

The bench saved the bacon against Wexford, a stronger bench the next Saturday should bring even further rewards for Armagh.