Quinlivan hat-trick defeats Armagh

April 3, 2017

NFL Div 3 Armagh 0-16 Tipperary 3-8

It was his last second completion of a second half hat-trick of goals by Michael Quinlivan that cruelly crushed the Orchard Counties promotion hopes as well as denying them a League final place against Louth next weekend. Twice Armagh had responded well to Quinlivan’s timely Tipp goals which kept them, in this promotion contest, at the Athletic Grounds where the hosts looked the better side. Armagh paid a very costly price as there was no recovery time from the Clonmel Commercials player’s third goal, at the death, which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to deny the better team, Armagh, promotion and a place in the league final.

Defeat will be a hard pill to swallow for Kieran McGeeney and his squad as they had given themselves a great chance of gaining promotion following a very poor start to their League campaign. One point on the board following an opening draw in Sligo followed by a shock home loss to Laois 2-11 to 0-16 it looked as if the promotion push was over before it ever began for Armagh. Those dropped points coupled with the concession of 6 goals in their first three League games did not bode well but to be fair Armagh recovered to win four games on the bounce and better still had not conceded a single goal in their last three matches.

The early League defensive frailties surfaced out of the blue against a Tipp side that capitalized to the full on elementary defensive errors in dealing with the ball. As the clock ticked down towards the fifth minute of added on time at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh tried to football their way out of trouble and got caught out. The ability to kill off teams when in the ascendancy over the course of this League campaign has proven very costly. Two home losses in the League is not the form to get promotion but out of all the doom and gloom associated with having to spend another year in Division Three there are positives to be taken. As Tipperary head on a revenge mission against Louth next Saturday Armagh’s focus of attention now switches to the championship clash with Down.

The Mournemen odds-on to be heading back to Division Three experienced the exact opposite to Armagh as Jerome Johnston’s late point salvaged a draw at Pairc ui Rinn with Cork which preserved their Division Two status.

One has to remember that Tipperary were beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists last year out of Division Three and that this year’s League campaign for what in large was an experimental Armagh panel of players was a lot more competetive (Offaly match aside) than three years ago. Armagh scored a massive15-103 over the course of the 7 League games and whilst it it easy to be critical now that the campaign is over without promotion gained for me the Orchard County were the better team in all of their League games. A decision here and there (the Sligo penalty) and the outcome could have been different such are the fine margins we are dealing with. Every Orchard supporter saw the late free given against Jamie Clarke as rightfully him being fouled, yet it went the way of Tipp who rubbed salt into the wounds by exacting maximum advantage with a match winning goal.

The last two games against Antrim and Tipperary were good tests in terms of championship preperation. Armagh are trying to find the right pegs for the right holes and are not as far off the mark regardless of the current situation. As I said a few weeks ago people have to be patient, the manager has adopted a more attack minded approach (which supporters were crying out for) and the minute he does this it’s his usually reliable defence that causes the problems. None of Quinlivans hat-trick of goals will feature very highly as goals of the year as he took full benefit of some poor defending. For me the real thing missing in Armagh’s League campaign is a bit of ruthlesness in being able to dispose of the opposition when on top. It surfaced against Offaly and Louth but proved very costly against Sligo, Laois and almost as costly against Longford and Antrim. With a full fit panel of players at his disposal manager McGeeney will have his work cut-out to select his starting 15 for the eagerly awaited match with an improving Down side. The real action is only beginning as Championship action comes into focus and out of Division Three last time out Armagh reached the All-Ireland quarter finals, so personel rather than results is the key championship ingredient. P.S. next year’s League will bring Derry, Fermanagh, Wexford and Westmeath as new opponents.