Armagh right back in the promotion mix

March 20, 2017

NFL Div 3 Louth 0-11 v Armagh 3-15

Less than a minute into this crucial Division Three league game at Drogheda, against unbeaten host Louth, the large contingent of traveling Armagh support saw their day get off to the worst possible start, with their team reduced to 14 players as Aidan Forker was red carded for an off the ball incident.

Even the most fervent and ardent among the Orchard support could never have imagined that the “Wee test” which had been turned into a “real examination” so early on, would be passed very comfortably by a brimming with confidence Armagh, who never allowed Louth a foothold in the game.

Kieran McGeeney had to re-jig his names starting 15 as defender Mark Shields, leading forwards Stefan Campbell and Andy Murnin were all ruled out through injury. Gregory McCabe slotted into defense with experienced duo Ciaran McKeever and Aidan Forker joining the attack.

Despite the explosive start the game was slow to settle on the scoring front with Rory Grugan opening the scoring after 6 minutes. Four minutes later Ciaran McKeever raised the first green flag getting on the end of a sweeping Armagh move. Louth then lost their man advantage as Anthony Williams was shown red for an off the ball incident after 7 minutes. Defenders Niall Rowland and Paul Hughes tagged on Armagh points before a shell-shocked home team opened their account through Paraic Smith quickly followed by a second from Ryan Burns. Grugan and Smith traded points before a second from Burns left Armagh 2-4 to 0-4 in front. Ben Crealey replaced Findon at midfield as Grugan stretched the lead to 7 points but Louth finished the half with points from Smith and a Burns “45” to trail 2-5 to 0-6 at the short whistle.

Any hopes of the league leaders getting a hold on the second half were quickly dismissed as Armagh reeled off 3 points inside 4 minutes of the re-start. Stephen Sheridan and a brace from Grimley helped welcome back from a long lay off James Morgan who came on for the second half in place of McCabe. Tommy Durnin, on 41 minutes, momentarily interrupted the Armagh flow with Louth’s seventh point but then Jamie Clarke sprang to life with 3 points on the trot to put the lead into double figures. A Grugan point took the lead to 11 points before Burns got Louth’s second point of the half some 15 minutes after getting the first. Durnin and substitute Ger McSorley grabbed points as Louth had the lead down to 2-12 to 0-10 by the 62nd minute. Three minutes later it was game, set and match to the visitors. Anto Duffy was fouled for a penalty which was rather luckily converted by Jamie Clarke as goalkeeper Lynch should have saved his effort. Two more Grimley points followed for Armagh as another sub Conall McKevitt completed the home scoring with their eleventh and final point. Gavin McParland pointed the last score of the game as Armagh ran out convincing 3-15 to 0-11 winners.

Armagh are right back in the promotion race following this great win of the league leaders who have lost top spot on scoring difference to Tipperary. Tipp came from 5 points down to Offaly to win 2-15 to 2-11 and join Louth on the 8 point mark with Armagh a point in arrears with 7. The penultimate round of fixtures next weekend when the clock changes will also see more changes to the Division Three league table before the last round of fixtures on April 2. Armagh can go top of the table with a home win over Antrim who are Saturday night March 25 at 7pm visitors to the Athletic Grounds. An Armagh win which cannot be taken for granted against an Antrim side fighting against relegation and fresh from their latest win 1-10 to 0-11 at home to Laois who have already won at the Athletic Grounds. Armagh will need to win on Saturday night to top the table as Louth have to travel to Thurles to take on Tipperary on Sunday March 26 at 3pm. With Tipperary to come to the Athletic Grounds for the last fixture and Louth at home to Sligo there are a lot of twists and turns yet to be negotiated before the Division 3 league finalists for the April 8 Croke Park final between the top two teams are finalised.