Just what the doctor ordered

July 1, 2013

● All-Ireland Qualifiers: Armagh 2-21 Wicklow 0-2

The talk of a small attendance was quickly rubbished as the Armagh faithful still smarting from the Cavan chastening streamed into the Athletic Grounds in a show of support for their much maligned team. Supporters and above all the players were eager to put the hugely disappointing defeat by Cavan in the Ulster Championship behind them but even the staunchest could not have envisaged a record qualifier winning margin of 25 points 2-21 to 0-2.

From an Armagh point of view it was what the doctor ordered as Wicklow were a very pale shadow of the team that came away with an extra-time draw on their last Championship visit to the Cathedral city. From the moment alert referee Derek Fahy, from Longford, pointed to the penalty spot for a tug on the majestic Jamie Clarke it spiralled totally downhill for the visitors once the Crossmaglen ace sent keeper John Flynn the wrong way for an opening goal. Jamie was then on hand to scramble the ball over the line for a second goal on five minutes after the keeper and defender Darren Powell made a mess of an Aaron Kernan delivery. By the quarter hour Wicklow were dead and buried as they trailed 2-7 to 0-0 and by the time the short whistle sounded it was 2-14 to 0-2. Wicklow did not score until Joey Kelly pointed in the 26th minute and a further score from corner-back Alan Burne quickly followed, but amazingly this turned out to be their last score of the match as they failed to raise a second half flag.

Armagh had cleared the air following the Breffni debacle and with panel defections due to Summer work regrouped and set about preparing for what looked like a stern test from the Garden County. Challenge match victories over Derry, Wexford and Offaly had boosted confidence and manager Paul Grimley announced four changes to the team to face Wicklow from the side that started against Cavan James Morgan, Brendan Donaghy, Ethan Rafferty and Eugene McVerry replaced Declan McKenna, Finian Moriarty, Ciaron O’Hanlon and Stefan Forker. With all gameplans out the window from the outset it still looked as if team Captain Ciaran McKeever is going to be used as a sweeper in front of the full back line. Morgan, Donaghy and McKeown looked very solid but it was a hard game to judge just how solid things really are until a sterner test is faced. Furlong who tortured Armagh on his last visit was well shackled but Wicklow had given up the ghost midway through the opening half.

Armagh can only beat what is in front of them they moved the ball well when it mattered most early on and put the game to bed in a very efficient manner as all 6 starting forwards weighed in on the scoreboard. Pride has been restored in the jersey and a fear put into prospective opponents that Armagh are far from a spent force in the 2013 Championship. The draw will have been made by the time our paper appears on the paper racks but the faith of the supporters has been rewarded and re-invigorated to get behind the team wherever the next day out takes them. Armagh boss Paul Grimley was relieved to go through “I apologised to the fans after the Cavan game because they are loyal and our tactics were exposed that day,” he said. “It has been a difficult period but we worked hard and played a lot of challenge matches. “It is satisfying and we are delighted to be in the draw.”