Armagh firmly in control of division

March 12, 2018

Following Armagh’s hard earned 1-15 to 0-14 Athletic Grounds Saturday night victory over Derry, the Orchard counties players management and supporters were able to turn their attention towards main promotion challengers Fermanagh who faced Westmeath in Mullingar on Sunday.

As it happened Sunday turned out to be the mother of all days for all connected with with Armagh’s push for promotion as Fermanagh (Armagh’s next opponents) conceded 5 unanswered late points to lose out to Westmeath 0-14 to 1-9 and Longford were held to a draw in Sligo 2-12 to 0-18. What all this means is that with 2 rounds of fixtures remaining Armagh are two points clear of Westmeath and Fermanagh with the Midlanders moving up to second following their win over the Ernemen and Longford slip to fourth 3 points behind Armagh.

As we know Armagh travel to Fermanagh in the penultimate round next Sunday before finishing off their campaign at Wexford with the home side currently pointless at the foot of the table. The other heavyweight clash in Division Three next weekend sees Longford entertain Westmeath which means that something has to give between the leading contenders. One thing guaranteed is that an Armagh win in Brewester Park will guarantee promotion no matter what happens elsewhere.

Whilst the defeat of Fermanagh ahead of next Sunday’s game with Armagh will be a great boost to the new league leaders it will not completely detract from the worrying loss to injury of Ethan Rafferty and Joe McElroy before the quarter hour against Derry. Maintaining their 100% league record with 5 wins on the bounce has come at a cost on the injury front for Armagh management who will face a race against time to have Rafferty and McElroy back in contention for starting berths next Sunday.

Niall Grimley had opened the scoring after 4 minutes at a windy Athletic Grounds on Saturday night but ten minutes in Conor McAtamney had levelled before Armagh had to replace Rafferty and McElroy with Colm Watters and Ryan McShane. Just when it looked like wind assisted Derry were gaining control Andew Murnin followed up his lead point with the crucial only game of the match on 17 minutes. Andy was first to react when a Greg McCabe shot came back off the upright and planted the leather firmly to the back of the net 1-2 to 0-1. The goal was to act as a spur to the visitors who plundered 5 points, Emmett Bradley 0-2, James Kielt, Mark Lynch and Benny Hearon all pointed the Oak Leafers into the lead 0-6 to 1-2. In 4 minutes of added time Grugan and Kielt traded points which left Derry 0-8 to 1-4 in front at the short whistle.

Armagh were quickly into their stride at the start of the second half with Murnin levelling before Aidan Forker fired Armagh into a lead that was never headed for the remainder of the half with an eleventh minute Bradley points restoring parity but that was as close as Derry came as Armagh piled on the pressure. Second half substitute Niall Rowland pointed the home side back in front. Fellow substitutes Colm Watters and Oisin MacIomhair also got on the scoresheet taking the Orchard scorers tally to 8 different players headed by Grugan with 0-6 his last point deliberately coming from the penalty spot near the end to put Armagh 5 clear following a foul on Vernon for the spot kick.

If you were offered prior to the commencement of the league campaign the current position that Armagh find themselves in you would have taken it with open arms. Armagh management have tried a lot of different defensive and offensive combinations, blooded a good few “new faces” and are now poised to achieve for, what is for me their number one priority for the season, promotion to a higher division. With their destiny now firmly in their own hands, Armagh will not let it slip from their grasp as previously and have shown enough commitment, fight and determination in their 5 league wins to date to make it 6 from 6 next Sunday and a place in Division Two to sit beside another Division Three League Final appearance.

Armagh – B Hughes; P Burns, O Lappin, P Hughes; E English, G McCabe, J McElroy; S Sheridan (0-1), C Vernon; B Crealey (0-1), A Forker (0-1), N Grimley (0-1f); R Grugan (0-6, 4f), A Murnin (1-2), E Rafferty. Subs: C Watters (0-1) for E Rafferty, R Kennedy for J McElroy, N Rowland (0-1) for P Hughes, O MacIomhair (0-1) for E English, R Lappin for A Murnin, J Cosgrove for P Burns.

Derry – B McKinless; R Mooney, K Johnston, C McCluskey; M McEvoy, C McWilliams (0-1), C Doherty; C McAtamney (0-1), E Bradley (0-4, 2f); E Lynn, B Heron (0-1), T O’Brien; P McGrogan, M Lynch (0-4, 2f), J Kielt (0-2). Subs: K McKaigue (0-1) for C McCluskey, N Toner for T O’Brien, B Rogers for R Mooney, P Cassidy for C Doherty, P McNeill for B Rogers, P Hagan for E Lynn.

Referee – D O’Mahony.