Grugan Seventh Heaven

June 30, 2014

● Ulster SFC Semi-Final Armagh 0-14 v Monaghan 0-14

The Armagh bandwagon descended on “old stomping ground” Clones in a more defiant than positive mood as they faced reigning Ulster champions, Monaghan. The title holders had already eliminated number one contenders, Tyrone, and now faced an Armagh side depleted by suspensions to defenders Andy Mallon and Brendan Donaghy along with midfielder Kieran Toner arising from the pre-match parade brawl prior to the start of the Cavan match in the last round. Throw in the loss of Caolan Rafferty, through injury, and the Orchard backs were to the wall as they took on the hot favourites from the Farney County.

But as nearly always their remit, Armagh deliver when written off and in this case a Rory Grugan point deep into added time gave Armagh a draw with Monaghan in this Ulster SFC semi-final in Clones on Saturday evening. Substitute Grugan, a surprise kicker of the late leveller sent the Armagh supporters into seventh heaven as he drew parity for the seventh and last time in a tense, pulsating thoroughly enjoyable full blooded championship contest that had everything. A couple of black cards, hard hitting numerous talking points, not least the free for the last point, a goalkeeper top scoring with 0-5 in the Ulster championship and some great scores, terrible misses but best of all a second helping next Sunday, July 6 at the same venue.

Monaghan posted two late changes to their selected 15 with Jack McCarron and Padraig Donaghy replacing Chris McGuinness and Paudie McKenna. The quartet chosen to come in for Armagh were Finnian Moriarty, Aaron Kernan, Stefan Campbell and Aidan Forker with Kyle Carragher also getting a corner-forward berth.

Armagh were quickly into their stride and were first on the scoreboard through Jamie Clarke following a flowing 6 man move. It then became the goalkeeper show as Rory Beggan put over the first of his 5 long-range frees with consummate ease, sailing between the uprights, to level, before a Jack McCarron free edged Monaghan ahead. Stefan Campbell levelled things before Beggan restored the home lead on 13 minutes which was added to by full-forward Kieran Hughes. Mark Shields kept Armagh in touch but Conor McManus, from play made it 5-3 to Monaghan as the game’s first” black card” was shown to Kyle Carragher who was replaced by Tony Kernan. Armagh skipper, Ciaran McKeever picked up a yellow card but it had no effect on a super personal performance. A third Beggan point doubled the scores 6-3 on 22 minutes as the champions looked to assert their authority but it was the challengers who came to the fore as the half concluded. Tony Kernan marked his productive introduction with a point followed by a goal attempt from Aidan Forker that was straight at Beggan but Forker soon made it a 1 point game, with his first point of the game. Wides from both sides were the order of the day as the short whistle beckoned but not before Armagh produced a sweeping 8 pass movement that ended with Campbell pointing to make it 6-6 at the interval.

For the second half, Monaghan replaced Jack McCarron with Stephen Gollogly who went on to have a big influence in the second half proceedings. Akin to the opening half it was Clarke who opened the second-half scoring but the Armagh lead was short-lived as a McManus free, and substitute Stephen Gollogly hit back for Monaghan who were dealt a huge blow as McManus saw “Black” for a late challenge on Finian Moriarty who was rock sold in the Armagh rear-guard. McManus was replaced by Chris McGuinness. Tony Kernan, with his second point made it 8 all but a super effort from Clerkin followed by a Gollogly pointed free stretched the champions into a 10-8 lead with less than 20 minutes left on the clock. Stephen Harold replaced Ethan Rafferty and Stefan Forker replaced his brother Aidan. The very industrious Kevin Dyas capped off a trojan performance with a good point to reduce the deficit to the minimum but a fourth for that man Beggan restored the 2 point advantage as Armagh replaced McVerry (who suffered an early hand injury) with Rory Grugan. But the challengers refused to buckle as Tony Kernan and Stefan Forker responded, to leave it level 0-11 each with 10 minutes to go. The always dangerous full-forward Hughes got on the inside of Vernon to fist over the lead point once more for Monaghan. Goalkeeper Beggan added his fifth point followed by one from substitute Christopher McGuinness.  The champions seemed to have at last put some daylight between the teams 0-14 to 0-11 with 6 minutes to go. Crucially the hitherto unflappable Beggan flapped as he missed his first free of the day, to keeping just a green flag between the teams. Armagh went for broke in the last 3 minutes, McKeever and Shields combined to set up a point from Clarke. Armagh piled forward and Campbell got his third of the game, to reduce the deficit to one. The “disputed free” which the nerveless Grugan sent sailing high between the uprights, to rightly earn Armagh a second chance at dethroning the champions.

Whilst the Armagh championship stock has been soaring following their two championship outings to date, let’s not get carried away in a wave of expectancy. Armagh will still be underdogs going into the replay despite the fact that the “suspended trio” will be available for selection. The question I posed before the drawn encounter was that it would be a real test of strength of the Armagh panel of players. They all have passed with flying colours which leave Armagh management, once they survey the walking wounded, (if any) with selection headaches ahead of next Sunday. The used substitutes by both management teams influenced the drawn game. Another tactical battle and full blooded encounter is in prospect and one never knows the sky could be the limit as the Armagh parade and flag protest grows quietly stronger with every match.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; J Morgan, C Vernon, F Moriarty; A Kernan, M Shields (0-1), C McKeever (Capt.); E Rafferty, A Findon; E McVerry, K Dyas (0-1), A Forker (0-1); J Clarke (0-3), S Campbell (0-3), K Carragher. Subs: T Kernan (0-3) for Carragher (black card, 21), S Harold for Rafferty (50), S Forker for A Forker (53), R Grugan (0-2) for McVerry (56), M Murray for Moriarty (64).

MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-5); R Wylie, D Wylie, C Walshe; D Mone, V Corey, F Kelly; D Clerkin, D Hughes; P Donaghy, J McCarron (0-1), K Duffy; D Malone, K Hughes (0-2), C McManus (Capt. 0-2). Subs: S Gollogly (0-2) for McCarron (H-T), C McGuinness (0-1) for McManus (black card, 44). P McKenna for Donaghy (51), P Finlay for Malone (62), K O’Connell for Kelly (69).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).