Armagh pay the penalty

March 17, 2014

Football League Division Two Armagh 0-10 Monaghan 1-17

It was not the saved Jamie Clarke penalty, the loss of Mark Shields to injury, or a second yellow for Andy Mallon, that proved costly for Armagh, but an incredible total of 47 scoreless minutes of football as they fell to Ulster champions Monaghan 0-10 to 1-17. It was a bewildering and frustrating performance from Armagh who were hoping to improve on impressive wins over Meath and Laois to get into the promotion mix with victory over one of the favourites for promotion, Monaghan.

The Ulster champions dominated the opening 20 minutes and raced into a 9 -0 lead against an Armagh team showing one change from the side that started against Laois. Rory Grugan replaced the injured Kevin Dyas, with his loss from centre-forward sorely felt as a ball winner and link, as well as his absence causing alterations to a sector that excelled against Laois.

Like last week it took Armagh time to get to grips with the direct ball and tactical use of the sweeper by the visitors who unlike Laois missed virtually nothing in the first 13 minutes, to lead 7-0  as impressive full-forward Jack McCarron slotted three successive frees, with Conor McManus, Dessie Mone and Kieran Hughes raising white flags after Padraig Donaghy had opened the scoring.

Stefan Campbell got on the end of a long delivery and was fouled by the Monaghan goalkeeper, Rory Beggan, for the concession of a penalty. But the Scotstown custodian redeemed himself by pushing Jamie Clarke’s penalty onto the upright and away to safety on 16 minutes. McManus won and scored a 25-metre free, before Lennon linked up with Donaghy and finished in style to make it nine without reply for the visitors.

Brian Mallon who had replaced Phelim O’Neill finally got Armagh off the mark on 23 minutes after exchanging passes with Caolán Rafferty, and it started a period of dominance for the home side that lasted until the 46th minute.

Harold and Findon flourished at midfield as Armagh got into the flow and rhythm of the previous week as an attacking force. Jamie curled over from a difficult angle and Stephen Harold linked up with Caolán Rafferty to add a point. McManus interrupted with a free from the left wing, after a foul on Hughes before Clarke responded in kind after he had been fouled. Caolán Rafferty sent over a point after a one-two with Harold and Tony Kernan tapped over a close-range free for a foul on Brian Mallon, to bring Armagh within four at half-time: 0-10 to 0-6. Following that terrible start the pendulum and momentum had swung in favour of the hosts who did not need the short whistle but went in at the break with a bounce in their step.

Armagh also started the second half strongly with nothing but a trio of bad wide’s to show for their efforts as Ethan Rafferty, Jamie and Forker missed scoreable chances. Eugene McVerry, who had replaced Grugan opened the second half scoring as Robbie Tasker was introduced for Forker. McCarron and Clarke exchanged frees before a second from McVerry left it 11-9 some ten minutes after the restart.Caolán Rafferty tagged on a very good point from play, to leave just the minimum between the teams. With the home support in a very sizeable crowd getting very excited as their opposite numbers got very anxious. It was another brace of frees for the Farney men(Monaghan scored 10 in total from placed balls) that settled them and ultimately the contest as they tagged on 1-6 without reply.

McManus and McCarron scored those points from 30-metre frees, before Hughes and Kelly combined to create a point for McManus which was to be Monaghan’s first point from play for half an hour. Defender Shields retired injured and was replaced by Kevin O’Rourke shortly, after, Armagh were reduced to 14 men when Andy Mallon got a second booking for a high tackle on Vincent Corey,  which effectively terminated the home hopes. McManus converted another brace of frees as McCarron curled over a superb score at the end of a move involving Gavin Doogan and sub Christopher McGuinness. The alert Beggan made another terrific save to keep out a quickly-taken free by Clarke, which took a wicked deflection, to keep Monaghan 7 clear 0-17 to 0-10. The double scores victory came about in injury time as Armagh keeper Philip McEvoy spilled a Kelly effort into the path of substitute  Darren Hughes, who was making his first appearance of 2014, and he smashed the ball to the net for a flattering 10 point victory.

The end result is really a bit deceiving as it does not accurately reflect on the way the game panned out. If Armagh could replicate “the bit in the middle” where they clawed back that 9 point deficit to one for the entire 70 minutes they were not that far away from a very experienced Monaghan side. In those two scoreless stretches of play Armagh conceded 1-15 of the 1-17 for Monaghan with 10 of those points from frees (some of which were very soft), Armagh also held Monaghan scoreless from play for 30 minutes. Players who played well last week failed to produce this week. For me, the enforced forward change and subsequent re-shuffling had an unsettling effect.

Armagh are away to Galway on Sunday week and then face Donegal in the Athletic grounds in their last match.

Armagh – P McEvoy; P Hughes, A Findon, M Murray; M Shields, A Mallon, P O’Neill; S Harold (0-1), E Rafferty; R Grugan, T Kernan (0-1f), C Rafferty (0-2); J Clarke (0-3, 2f), S Campbell, S Forker. Subs: B Mallon (0-1) for P O’Neill, E McVerry (0-2) for R Grugan, R Tasker for S Forker, K O’Rourke for M Shields.

Monaghan – R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, C Walshe; K O’Connell, D Mone (0-1), V Corey; O Lennon (0-1), G Doogan; K Duffy, K Hughes (0-1), P Donaghy (0-1); D Malone, J McCarron (0-6, 5f), C McManus (0-7, 5f). Subs: P O’Hanlon for D Malone, C McGuinness for P Donaghy, D Hughes (1-0) for O Lennon.