What a come back

February 3, 2014

• Louth 0-16 Armagh 1-13

Following a woeful opening half where they went in trailing 0-10 to 0-4, it looked even bleaker for Armagh with 20 minutes to go as hosts Louth led by double scores 0-16 to 0-8 but to their credit the Orchard boys responded with an unanswered 1-5 to claim a draw 1-13 to 0-16.

Indeed Armagh who totally dominated the closing stages of the game could have come away from the Gaelic Grounds, Drogreda with both points as substitute Oisin MacIomhair saw his point attempt at the death drift wide of the upright.

From an Armagh point of view, this was a vital point gained while Aidan O’Rourke will see it as the opposite as his wee country charges looked well in control until their last quarter collapse.

The dramatic change in fortunes can be attributed to 2 factors Louth looking like comfortable victors made changes which altered their flowing play while opposite number Paul Grimley sprung programmed players Stephen Harold, Brian Mallon, Stefan Forker along with the most influential Ciaran McKeever off the bench to telling effect.

Louth hit the games first wide through Aidan Reid whilst Armagh from their first attack after 3 minutes took the lead as Tony Kernan pointed, reacting to the rebound ball off the upright from Jamie Clarke’s free.

In a 10 minute spell, 8-18 minutes Louth hit 5 unanswered points. Brian Donnelly opened the home account with a pointed free, followed by one from play and one from a free from Declan Byrne with Derek Maguire making it 4-1 on a quarter hour mark. A Colm Judge free was cancelled by a second Armagh point, courtesy of an Ethan Rafferty free. Full forward Eoin O’Connor and Maguire with this second point stretched the lead to 5 points, 7-2.

A second Rafferty free temporarily interrupted the home flow which was was resumed by mid-fielder Paddy Keenan, with the first of his four points from play added to by Byrne from a placed ball.

Arare flowing Armagh move saw Stefan Campbell point after his initial effort was blocked. The first half scoring closed with a super second from Keenan.

Louth were well worth their interval lead as the visitor were at sixes and sevens and in trouble all over the field. To that end Armagh management had introduced Ciaran McKeever, Aidan Forker and Stephen Harold, for Johnny Hanratty, Paul Hughes and James Lavery, long before the short whistle had arrived.

The home side started where they had left off as points from Donnnelly and a Judge free made it an 8 point game.

Ciaran McKeever found club mate Robbie Tasker who off loaded to Campbell for Armagh’s opening score of the second half of 36 minutes. Jamie Clarke was disposessed and Louth raided with Keenan pointing 13-5 as Armagh bought on Brian Mallon for Kyle Carragher.

Louth’s dominant mid-fielders O’Donnell and Keenan combined to feed Andy McDonnell who fielded with aplomb but was fouled and Judge duly converted.

Armagh replied with their first period of dominace as McKeever pointed a short taken ’45’ and Rory Grugan found the target to leave it double scores 14-7 on 44 minutes. When Jamie Clarke notched his opening score the subdued Armagh support began to found their voice at last they had something to shout about other than Sligo referee Martin Duffy.

Louth looked to have weathered the Armagh revival following the introduction of Liam Doyle and Stephen Campbell for Maguire and Byrne. The removal of Byrne and Maguire with 5 points between them was to prove costly in the long run for Louth.

But for now all seem rosy for the Wee Country, as Campbell played a hand in points for Keenan and Judge as Louth led by 8 points, double scores 16-8 with 20 minutes left on the clock.  Amazingly Louth were not to score in those last 20 minutes, as they, like Armagh in the opening half became shapeless and unable to match the growing intensity and belief of their visitors.

Stefan Folker replaced Robbie Tasker for Armagh with John Kermonde on in place of full-forward O’Connor for Louth.

Captain Clarke fired over his second point and then pointed a free as Dessie Finnegan picked up a yellow card (under the new rules looked a black card) as Armagh came within 6 points, 16-10 with 13minutes remaining.

A sideline injury to Aiden Forker saw a delay before he was stretched off replaced by Ciaran MacIomhair. The break must have affected the Louth defence as it was breached from the resulting sideline ball on the re-start.

Tony Kernan fired the ball across goal which was caught by Stefan Campbell whose goal bound shot was brilliantly saved by Dromintee man Shane McCoy in the Louth goals but Stefan Forker was on hand to net the loose ball, game on 1-10 to 0-16.

Moments change games and following the Armagh goal that game changer arrived. A Brian O’Donnell free looked to be heading over the bar until Ciaran McKeever plucked it out of the sky to deny a certain point which was to prove critical.

Armagh swept down field from the catch led by Shield, who found Clarke who inturned was foul. Tony Kernan pointed as the four minutes added time was flashed.

A magnificent catch by Rafferty at mid-fielder saw him surge forward to found Campbell who made it a 1 point game 0-16 to 1-12. Armagh were swarming all over Louth as they dominate possession. Subtitute MacIomhar was involved twice with a five man move before being fouled. Tony Kernan calmly slotted over the equaliser.

Shields and Harold set up the winning opportunity for MacIomhar, who could have given Armagh an even more dramatic win to surpass an unbelievable draw.

The point picked up in this encounter, when all seemed lost could be the difference between promotion and relegation in what is a very tight competitive division two. Next opponent in the Athletic Grounds on Friday night neighbours Down, who also staged a great comeback to earn a share of the spoils with Ulster Champions Monaghan.

The pleasing aspect outside of the league point earn by Armagh was their attitude and fighting spirit to work their way back into a match that had looked beyond them.

But everyone connected to the Orchard Country knows that 20 minute performances out of 70 will only lead to one thing – Relegation and the mark improvement will be needed against Down. The fact that it is Down will raise Armagh and with more established player getting play time in the Gaelic Park, it is upwards and onwards for Armagh in what will be a fascinating league campaign judging by the opening round of results.

Armagh: P. McEvoy, A. Mallon, C. Vernon, M. Murray, M. Shield, J. Hanratty. P. Hughes, R. Grugan, J. Lavery, S. Campbell (0-3), T. Kernan (0-3), R. Tasker, J Clarke (0-3), E. Rafferty (0-2), K Carragher. Subs C. McKeever (0-1) for Hanratty, A Folker for P. Hughes, S. Harold for Lavery, S. Forker (1-0) for Tasker, C. MacIomhair for A Forker.

Louth: S. McCoy, P. Rath, P. Reilly, G. O’Hare, J O’Brien, D. Finnegan, L Shelvin, P. Keenan (0-4), B Donnelly (0-2), A Reid, C Judge (0-4) D. Byrne (03), A McDonnelly, E. O’Connor (0-1), D. Maguire (0-2).