A long way towards promotion

February 12, 2018

 ● National football league Armagh 1-11 Longford 1-10

The most important thing to come out of this table topping Division Three match between Armagh and Longford is the victory for the Orchard County that preserves their unbeaten 3 match start to their league campaign. Visitors Longford looked the better team for long spells and overcame injuries, black cards, red cards to be cruelly denied a share of the points following a late added time point winner from Rory Grugan, which incidentally was the only time Armagh led in the match.

Why I say that the result was more important than the overall performance is the fact that in last year’s league Armagh did a Longford by losing a match that was very winnable which ultimately cost them promotion. At the Athletic Grounds Armagh kept plugging away until the final whistle despite a host of missed chances and scoring options to win a game that looked to have eluded them. 

From the get go Longford manager Denis Connerton had his side primed for this Orchard test as they showed great composure in holding possession before advancing forward breaking through the tackles and using the width of the pitch to stretch the home defence. The Slashers supporters and management will return home feeling very aggrieved and empty handed with crucial Red and Black cards along with injuries playing pivotal roles in their demise.

Armagh started with Brendan Donaghy and Ben Crealey in for Paul Hughes and Ronan Lappin as Longford swapped the McGivney brothers James for David from the outset. For the second week in a row Armagh were slow out of the blocks and trailed 4-1 inside 15 minutes. Elusive corner-forward Robbie Smyth started the scoring with the first of his 3 opening half points which was negated by a home point from Ethan Rafferty. It was a quarter of an hour before a second Armagh point from the boot of midfielder Stephen Sheridan arrived and served to half the deficit as a brace from James Mc Givney and another from Daniel Mimnagh had given the Slashers a 4-1 lead as midfielder Andrew Farrell was forefront to their challenge.

Rory Grugan was denied a goal at the expense of a point by impressive towering Longford goalkeeper Paddy Collum and a superb Ethan Rafferty leveler followed as the visitors reeled from the loss of the Black carded McGivney and yellow carded Barry McKeon. Smyth restored the Longford lead with a well taken pair of points as the other half-back Mickey Quinn hit the target to make it 7-4 on the half hour, Ben Crealey registered an Armagh point but another visitor to catch the eye Dessie Reynolds got on the scoresheet to leave a goal between them at half-time 0-8 to 0-5.

Kieran McGeeney’s charges need to immediately get a grip on proceedings in the second half and Sheridan won the throw -in which ended up with a Crealey wide and an Ethan Rafferty yellow card following an altercation with goalkeeper Collum. A second yellow for the influential Farrell for a high challenge on Rafferty was a major blow for the visitors especially when Grugan pointed the resulting free to make it a 2 point game. One would have expected Armagh to push on with the numerical advantage but the hosts had left their shooting boots in the dressing room as they chalked up a handful of wides which were made look more costly by a second super point from Reynolds to restore Longford’s green flag advantage.

Armagh kept plugging away in spite of their bad misses with a brace from Rafferty (his second a match leveller with 15 minutes to go) sandwiched between a great Gregory McCabe point and once again one expected Armagh to kick-on but not so. Longford’s straight running at the Armagh defence once again proved very fruitful as goalkeeper Blaine Hughes denied them a goal with a terrific save and with the loose ball picked off the ground as a Longford man looked set to poke it into the net, a penalty was awarded. Up stepped corner-back Donal McElligott to coolly slot home to restore Longford’s 3 point lead with 57 minutes elapsed on the clock. Armagh rang the changes with Michael Stevenson and Joe McElroy joining early second half substitute Anto Duffy as Ryan McShane, Crealey and Donaghy were replaced.

As home frustration grew with nothing seemingly going right Longford broke forward and substitute James McGivney saw his effort hit the crossbar and over for what then looked like an insurance point. A converted Grugan free left Armagh in need of an equalizing goal which arrived somewhat controversially on 68 minutes. Cavan referee Noel Mooney may rule out holidays in Longford as he missed what looked like a free out to Longford before Grange’s Ethan Rafferty rifled the ball to the roof of the net 1-10 apiece and 5 minutes added time to be played. As Armagh pressed for a winner the overworked Cavan official handed out further black cards to Duffy (Armagh) and Quinn (Longford). Armagh showed their first real bit of composure in the game when it mattered most as they retained possession with 8 or 9 passes before setting up Rory Grugan to nab the match winning point in the 75th minute to break Longford hearts and seal a dramatic win for Armagh.

With only one more home game v Derry and 3 on the road Offaly, Fermanagh and Wexford the Orchard see Promotion ripe for the picking as one cannot underestimate the importance of this win over Longford. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat shows a new streak in this current Armagh squad and bodes well for the games to come. With a welcome week’s respite to come 6 points out of 6 is the perfect start. When you win whilst not being at your best is a very key ingredient in winning leagues at any level of sport as it can be a bigger tonic that an emphatic victory.

With two of the other 4 scheduled Division Three League games postponed because of the weather Armagh are clear alone at the top of the division as the league takes a week’s break. Next up for Armagh is a trip to Tullamore where Offaly will provide the opposition. It is more than likely that this weekend’s postponed games will be penciled in for this coming weekend

ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; Patrick Burns, Aaron McKay, Brendan Donaghy; Niall Rowland, Gregory McCabe 0-1, Mark Shields; Stephen Sheridan 0-1, Charlie Vernon; Ryan McShane, Aidan Forker, Niall Grimley; Rory Grugan (capt.) 1-4, Ben Crealey 0-1, Ethan Rafferty 0-4.

Subs.: Anto Duffy for McShane, Michael Stevenson for Crealey, Joe McElroy for Donaghy, Andrew Murnin for Sheridan, Ryan Kennedy for Duffy (BC). 

LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Patrick Fox, Padraig McCormack, Donal McElligott1-0 (penalty); Michael Quinn 0-1 , Barry Gilleran, Daniel Mimnagh 0-1 ; Darren Gallagher, Andrew Farrell; Barry McKeon, David McGivney 0-2 , Dessie Reynolds 0-2; Robbie Smyth 0-3 ,Conor Berry, Rian Brady.

Subs.: Peter Foy for P McCormack inj (13 mins), James McGivney 0-1 for D McGivney (black card) (24 mis), Ronan McEntire for R Brady (47 mins), Darren Quinn for D Reynolds (71 mins), Diarmuid Masterson for M Quinn (black card) (74 mins)

Picture credit James McCann Photographer.