Armagh exit the Championship

July 22, 2013

● All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 3: Armagh 0-9 Galway 1-11

Armagh’s Championship campaign came to an end last Saturday evening in Pearse Stadium as a controversial square ball goal from Danny Cummins left them too much to do against Galway, who never trailed in this engaging contest.

For the second time this season, Armagh came up against opponents who zoned in on Jamie Clarke as their main offensive threat and for the second time this season, the Orchard County were unable to come up with a plan B that could get them over the line. From the start Galway made sure that the Crossmaglen corner-forward was double marked at all times and their full-back line line made hay on the back of Armagh’s attempts to feed Clarke regardless. Consequently the homeside went on to dominate the first half, building a platform that ensured their progression into the fourth round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers.

Galway came into this game as underdogs due to their underwhelming performances against Tipperary and Waterford in the qualifiers, however they retained the hurt from their Championship humiliation against neighbours Mayo and in their fourth home game of this Championship campaign, they finally produced a performance worthy of their underage success in recent seasons.

After the game Michael Meehan spoke about how they studied the DVD of the Cavan vs Armagh fixture in the Ulster Championship to get some clues as to how their opponents would set up and how best to neutralise the threat of the Ulster county. It was clear from the throw-in that Armagh weren’t going to cruise to victory here, as they had done against Wicklow and Leitrim in their previous two outings.

A punched point from sweeping defender Johnny Duane and two well struck frees from Meehan got the homeside out to an early three point lead, though Armagh could and should have been much closer if they had been able to produce some accurate finishing – very much a theme for them on a day when they finished with thirteen wides.

Caolan Rafferty had a bright start on the right wing and he succeeded early on in taking defenders out of the game with his pace and his neat sidestep, but his shooting failed to live up to his approach play and the Granemore man missed out on a goal and a point in those early exchanges.

Armagh finally got off the mark in the 11th minute through a Tony Kernan free before Rafferty finally hit the target at his third attempt with an effort off the outside of his boot on the run – one that looked suspiciously wide to those watching at the clubhouse end of the field. However, that piece of luck was, to me more than balanced out ten minutes later, after Michael Meehan and Ciarán McKeever traded scores.

Paul Conroy had been one of the few shining lights for this Galway team in their games so far but when he shaped up to a free kick out on the left wing and the wrong side of the 45m line, any notion of a direct score seemed optimistic. As expected his shot dropped short but inexplicably, corner forward Danny Cummins was able to leap unchallenged and punch the ball to the net from the right hand post. The absence of a whistle for square ball was a huge shock to home and away supporters alike but once Rory Hickey went to write in his notebook, it became clear that the score was going to stand, despite the impassioned pleas of the Armagh defenders.

Two lovely points from play from Michael Martin stretched Galway’s lead out to six, but in the five minutes before half-time and the ten minutes after it, Armagh played their best football, reeling Galway back in.

Stefan Campbell had been introduced from the bench early on and he was a huge influence in Armagh’s resurgence, taking the ball on and driving at the Galway defence with powerful runs. Armagh were beginning to learn that blindly looking for Clarke wasn’t working so they pushed up an extra man to mark Duane – the Galway sweeper – and the rewards soon followed.

Two points before half-time, including a nice left footed effort from Campbell, preceded a period of real dominance at the start of the second half. All the play flowed down towards the Galway end of the field but, critically, Armagh just couldn’t find their range. Campbell scored again and Ethan Rafferty also reduced the deficit when he blasted the ball over the bar from a goal chance, but four wides and two shots dropped short in the same ten minute spell hurt Armagh’s chances.

Critically, when Galway finally managed to create their first chance of the half, Michael Martin swept over a majestic left footed point from the top of the right, leaving Armagh still three adrift at 1-7 to 0-7, despite their stranglehold on the middle third of the field.

Campbell struck again in the fiftieth minute to cut that lead back to two, but after expending so much energy into getting back into the game, Armagh had nothing left to resist Galway’s next surge, when it came. Seventeen scoreless minutes for the Orchard County were to follow, during which time Galway tacked on four points, each one a dagger to the heart of the wilting Armagh men, each one heralding the end of a Championship season that never took off from an Armagh point of view.

The Orchard County end the Championship with a scoring difference of +43 and All-Irelands have been won with much less, but that will be scant consolation to Paul Grimley and his players, whose year ended without a meaningful victory on the summer stage.

Scorers – Galway: Michael Meehan 0-4 (4f), Michael Martin 0-3, Danny Cummins 1-0, Paul Conroy, Seán Armstrong(1f), Johnny Duane, Gary Sice 0-1 each

Armagh: Stefan Campbell 0-3, Ciarán McKeever 0-2, Tony Kernan (1f), Aaron Kernan (1f), Ethan Rafferty, Caolan Rafferty 0-1 each

Galway: Manus Breathnach; Johnny Duane, Finian Hanley, Donal O’Neill; Seán Denvir, Gary O’Donnell, Gary Sice; Paul Conroy, Tomás Flynn; John O’Brien, Seán Armstrong, Conor Doherty; Michael Martin, Michael Meehan, Danny Cummins. Subs: Colin Forde for O’Neill (43-45 blood), Shane Walsh for O’Brien (57), Fiontán O Curraoin for Armstrong (62), Michael Farragher for Sice (63-65 blood), Adrian Varley for Meehan (67), Michael Farragher for Martin (68), Michael Martin for Conroy (68 blood).

Armagh: Philip McEvoy; Paul McKeown, Brendan Donaghy, James Morgan; Aaron Kernan, Ciarán McKeever, Mark Shields; James Lavery, Stephen Harold; Caolan Rafferty, Kevin Dyas, Ethan Rafferty; Jamie Clarke, Eugene McVerry, Tony Kernan. Subs: Stefan Campbell for C Rafferty (28), Kieran Toner for Harold (33), Finian Moriarty for McKeown (h-t), Aiden Forker for McVerry (55), Stefan Forker for E Rafferty (62).

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).