It’s all about the result

February 2, 2015

● Allianz NFL Div 3 Aramgh 2-08 Tipperary 0-13

Armagh began their National League Division Three campaign with a 2-8 to 0-13 Athletic Grounds victory over one of their main promotion rivals Tipperary. Played on St Brigid’s Day which celebrated the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early sign of spring, the end result for Armagh rather than the team performance even though it was only the first day of February could be one of the most significant results of 2015

Tipperary manager Peter Creedon fielding a raft of 20 year olds had his homework done on Armagh as his Tipp team attacked down the flanks throughout the game, isolating the central Armagh defensive core to telling effect. Fourteen men Tipperary had outscored Armagh 9 points to 1-1 over 35 minutes of the second half. It will be a long way to Tipperary for Creedon and his players, especially empty handed, in a match where they were the better side and had spurned a couple of goal chances into the bargain.

Were it not for the genius of Clarke, 1-5 and generosity of referee Coldrick, they would have got their campaign off to a shock winning start.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney made two changes from his selected 15 before the throw-in with Tim Harney replacing Matthew McNiece in goals and Sean Connell in at half-back to replace Declan McKenna. Armagh, the odds-on favourites to win Division Three, were slow starters and never built up any rhythm throughout the game and were physically out-muscled by the visitors for long periods but stuck manfully at their task to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when the opportunity presented itself. It was the first real day at the office for both teams with one team, Tipperary, turning up for work and playing like a team who are on the up whilst Armagh laboured once the visitors got to grips with the early Clarke threat. But in the end it was the class of the Crossmaglen Rangers forward at either end of the two halves that delivered an unlikely opening two points.

A tentative opening half with scores at a premium took a late twist in favour of Armagh (though nothing to compare with the late second half drama) when Armagh were awarded a penalty in the last minute of normal time. Aaron Findon, who had earlier picked up the only yellow card of the half was baring down on goal ran into Paddy Codd with referee David Colderick ignoring the call of too many steps and possible lost possession pointing to the spot for a “soft” penalty. Jamie Clarke duly beat goalkeeper Evan Comerford with the spot kick to add to his 3 points which gave Armagh a 1-4 to 0-4 interval lead. The converted penalty was Armagh’s first score in 10 minutes as visitors Tipp proved resolute in defense nullifying the first quarter influence of Jamie who had accounted for all 3 opening points for the hosts who had led 2-0 after 11 minutes and 4-3 on 26 minutes. Clarke opened the scoring on 6 minutes following good work by Miceal McKenna and Aidan Forker to set up the score and 5 minutes later it was the individual brilliance of Clarke that doubled the lead. Michael Quinlivan broke clear of the Armagh rearguard and with a goal chance beckoning he elected to open the visitors account by taking his point. Shortly after recording their third wide Armagh stretched the lead to 3-1 on 17 minutes as Jamie converted a free. Colin O Riordan cut the deficit to the minimum with a Conor Sweeney free on 25 minutes levelling matters at 3 all. A foul on Aidan Forker a minute later enabled Tony Kernan convert to regain the lead for the Orchard County. A great point from a free near the sideline restored parity for the second time. The half ended with Jamie grabbing the last score from the penalty to hand Armagh a flattering 1-4 to 0-4 half-time lead.

Tipp were out on the field left waiting by Armagh who must have been getting an ear bashing from their manager for their opening half display. The delayed arrival did nothing to put off the Premier County who were out of the traps flying with 4 unanswered points from their first four attacks. O Riordan within 15 seconds of the restart, a Sweeney free, Barry Grogan free to level the match 0-7 to 1-4, with his second point in the opening four minutes from O’Riordan putting Tipperary in the lead for the very first time. Tipp were rampant, coming at Armagh from all angles especially gobbling up the long kick-outs from Harney as they had successfully stopped the short deliver by closing down the space. But the game then took an unexpected twist with the intervention of the linesman leading to a straight red for Robbie Kielty for an allegedly off the ball strike on Armagh’s Sean Connell. Immediately on the resumption Armagh was level with Aidan Forker opening his account and a minute later a cracking 20 yard goal strike from the home sides’ best player on the day Mark Shields flew past Comerfort. Three points ahead within 2 minutes of the Tipperary reduction to 14 the momentum of the game had swung back in favour of the hosts. Not so, as that 1-1 inside a minute from Armagh was to be the only time they troubled the scoreboard until the two minutes of added time was flashed up. Armagh introduced Andy Mallon and Kevin Dyas for Connell and Moriarty after going into that 3 point lead.

Tipperary shrugged aside the loss of a man and the lead to hit an unanswered 5 points through Sweeney (free), Grogan (2) and with 12 minutes to go Stephen O’Brien gave Tipp the lead which was doubled when George Hannigan pointed. Armagh’s introduction of Dyas did not last too long as the Dromintee man was clattered by goalkeeper Comerford and was replaced by Stephen Harold. Tipperary introduced Philip Austin for Fahey, Brian Mulville for Brogan and Sean Flynn for Hannigan as they tried to protect their two point advantage. Armagh with nothing to lose as the third official flashed only 2 minutes of added time given the amount of substitutions and the length of the Dyas/goalkeeper clash that halted play. With the whole Armagh defense pushing forward Tipperay, for the first time in the match retreated to defend their lead which was to prove very costly. Vernon offloaded to McKeever who in turn found McKenna who made it a one point game. Armagh looked as if they had salvaged a draw when Rafferty gave the ball to Clarke who wangled a little space to fire over the equalizing point. With the allocated two minutes gone the long whistle was expected from the kick-out but it did not come from the Meath official and Armagh with the bit between their teeth, came raiding once more finding that man Clarke who steered the ball between the uprights to “steal” victory.

Armagh got relegated last year from Division Two because they lost games they should have won, this time it is the other way round and appropriately as already mentioned about it being St Brigid’s Day supporters should celebrate the arrival of warmer days as they head to Wexford Park next Sunday to take on the Yellowbellies. Wexford had a poor opening day away to Clare where they were hammered 1-16 to 0-5 and will be keen to make amends. The importance of an opening home win for Armagh is further evidenced by the fact that the other 3 home teams in the division Clare, Limerick 0-14 Sligo 1-9, Fermanagh 0-16 Louth 0-7 all recorded wins and are all above Armagh through the scoring averages.

I said in the preview it was a case of “tosach maith leath na hoibre” and so it has proved with the management and team judged on results and promotion no matter what way it comes. A lot of disappointing opening day performances can be righted next Sunday with the boost of a win after playing poorly, the added tonic for improvement.

Armagh: Tim Harney; Finnian Moriarty, Charlie Vernon, Michael Murray; Mark Shields (1-0), Ciaran McKeever, Sean Connell; Aaron Findon, Stefan Campbell; Eugene McVerry, Miceal McKenna (0-1), Aidan Forker (0-1); Tony Kernan (0-1), Caolan Rafferty, Jamie Clarke (1-5). Subs- Andy Mallon for Moriarty, Kevin Dyas for Connell, Stephen Harold for Dyas

Tipperary: Evan Comerford; Alan Campbell, Paddy Codd, Andrew Morrissey; Seamus Kennedy, Peter Acheson, Robbie Kiely; Colin O’Riordan (0-3), Stephen O’Brien (0-2); George Hannigan (0-1), Barry Grogan (0-2), Brian Fox; Conor Sweeney (0-4), Michael Quinlivan (0-1), Ian FaheySubs- Philip Austin for Fahey, Brian Mulville for Grogan, Sean Flynn for Hannigan

Ref-David Coldrick (Meath)