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Defeat in best match of championship

July 9, 2018

 ● All-ireland SFC Round 4 Qualifiers Roscommon 2-22 Armagh 1-19

It will be a little consolation to Armagh that their championship qualifier journey ended in Portlaois at the hands of Roscommon 2-22 to 1-19 in a match that was by far the best of the 2018 championship as it now moves into the new Super 8 format.

What a difference a week makes as Armagh had clawed back a five-point deficit to trail by just one heading into six minutes of injury time but unlike against Clare a week ago when the Orchard boys notched 1-5 without reply it was Roscommon’s turn to tag on 1-4 to a reply of a single point to book their place in the Super 8’s in the Group containing Dublin, Donegal and Tyrone.

This exciting, close-fought game ebbed and flowed throughout in blistering heat as both teams produced attacking, dynamic footballing displays with no negativity in their football whatsoever. Saying that, there will be question marks asked about the defensive qualities of both teams, as 44 scores were recorded and at least another half dozen goal chances, including a penalty miss were squandered, as both sides went for broke. We had to wait 16 minutes before the opening wide of the match occurred (24 minutes before a wide for Armagh, who had converted all 9 of their scoring opportunities) as the first half that raged from start to finish sprinkled with some breathtaking point scoring at both ends and produced 24 scores with the teams on level terms 4 times.

There was drama before Cavan’s Joe McQuillan started the match as Armagh full-back Aaron McKay was replaced by Connaire Mackin who had been selected on the starting 15 put was replaced by Ryan Owens until the late withdrawal of McKay. Roscommon also lost full-forward Ultan Harney injured in the warm-up, replaced by Niall Daly with Niall Kilroy replacing midfielder Cathal Compton on the selected starting 15.

Armagh survived a Roscommon goal chance seconds after the throw-in as Gregory MacCabe blocked from Cathal Cregg but 2 minutes in Ciarain Murtagh opened the scoring with a pointed free but Aidan Forker, operating as an attacker quickly levelled with a very good point. A second for Murtagh was cancelled by one from the industrious Jamar Hall with Andrew Murnin giving Armagh the lead with the first of his 4 points from play in the opening half. It was 4 out of 4 for the Orchard boys who had certainly brought their shooting boots as midfielder Stephen Sheridan doubled their lead 4-2 after 8 minutes. McCabe picked up a yellow card for a silly free easily converted by Murtagh but quickly nullified by a second from the elusive Murnin. Roscommon opened up the Armagh defence but Donie Smith fired a goal chance over the bar, to put the minimum between them 5-4 on 12 minutes.

Murtagh restored parity before 2 points from Rory Grugan, sandwiched in between by a third for Murnin gave Armagh a 3 point lead 8-5. A brilliant long range Murtagh point (his fourth of the game) was answered by a Free from Niall Grimley following a foul on Hall. Once again a green flag separated the teams 9-6 with 5 of the 6 Armagh forwards now on the score sheet. The influential Cregg grabbed a point and was then fouled enabling Diarmuid Murtagh to convert to leave it a one point game before a super Grugan point from play doubled the lead 10-8. 

A sweeping Roscommon move out of defence as they capatalised on a pair of loose Armagh handpasses on 28 minutes was to alter the course of this match to telling affect. A hitherto quiet, by his standards Enda Smith was twice involved in the move, his second action to slot the ball past Blaine Hughes for a text book quick counter attacking goal and a slender lead for the Rossies. Murnin’s fourth point levelled matters for the fourth time but the goal had given the defeated Connacht finalists a new lease of life with Diarmuid Murtagh putting them ahead before Smith, once again, faced Hughes one on one but elected to fist a point before a fifth Ciarain Murtagh point left it 1-11 to 0-11 as Armagh brought on Joe McElroy for McCabe and finished the half’s scoring as Grugan pointed following a foul on Vernon to retire at the interval with Roscommon leading 1-11 to 0-12.

The sun drenched crowd were gripped by the first half shoot-out between Murnin and the Murtagh brothers Diarmuid and Ciarain with the Armagh man shading the issue, as all his 4 points had come from play. Orchard supporters would have wondered as to how their team, playing so well were behind at the short whistle, with the Smith goal the stand out, most telling moment of the half.

Both managers would have spent the interval in trying to find a solution to their defensive problems. Kevin McStay focusing on how to stem the flow of ball to the on fire Murnin as Armagh, in contrast to the previous week had 12 scores on the board (as opposed to 12 wides last week) as they made the most of every scoring opportunity (1 wide). Opposition manager Kieran McGeeney, to try and close the gap in front of his full-back line which was being exploited by Roscommon’s direct running at the middle of the defence. The same problem had occurred against Clare with regular league number 6 Niall Rowland introduced for the second half for that match but this time round the option was for positional change as opposed to substitutions. Aidan Forker, doing very well in his attacking role was recalled to the defence for the second half of which 12 minutes had elapsed before Rowland was introduced.

Akin to the start of the first half a goal chance was fashioned but Armagh’s Grugan elected to take his point to put the minimum between the sides but Roscommon hit back immediately with 3 points on the bounce in as many minutes as Cathal Cregg (0-2) and Ciarain Murtagh made it 1-14 to 0-13 some 10 minutes into the half. On 44 minutes an adjudged foot block on a Grugan goal effort resulted in a penalty being awarded. Orchard skipper Grugan saw his spot kick saved by keeper Colm Lavin and when Donie Smith made it a 5 point game it looked as if the game was up for Armagh. But showing tremendous courage and grit Armagh were determined to die with their boots on. Mark Shields, an isolated figure on the edge of the Roscommon square, out fielded two defenders and shot to the net to revive Orchard hopes some 2 minutes after the penalty miss.

A Diarmuid Murtagh converted soft free was the Rossies reply to the goal as Rowland and Gavin McParland entered the fray for Armagh who once again faced a 4 point deficit after Donie Smith fisted a point as yet another goal chance went a begging. In between 2 fouls on Shields (who was causing the Roscommon full-back line all sorts of problems) both converted by Grimley, Cregg dragged an open goal attempt wide of the upright just after Murtagh, from a free took his teams total to 1-18. A third point in a row from Grimley was followed by one from sub Gavin McParland and the match was literally back in the melting pot which was the Portlaois pitch as the score stood 1-18 to 1-17 with 4 minutes of normal time remaining.

In sapping heat survival of the fittest was always going to be an issue and having gone to the well the previous week Armagh came off second best as Roscommon’s bench players help get them over the line. Substitute Compton doubled their advantage with a good point and Diarmuid Murtagh showed his defensive and tracking back ability as he blocked his marker Paddy Burns goal bound shot out for a “45” which was floated over by Grimley for his fifth point of the afternoon. In the added 6 minutes of play it was Armagh who were on the receiving end this week as Roscommon finished strongest as Diarmuid Murtagh matched his brothers tally of 6 points followed by 2 more points from substitute Fintan Cregg and Conor Devaney. After an open goal attempt was fisted into the side netting Enda Smith finished off as the games top scorer as he grabbed a second goal to end up with 2-1 to his name. Ryan McShane summed up Armagh’s gallant effort with the 44th score of a truly remarkable game of football that has restored a lot of faith in a game that has come in for a lot of ridicule for its perceived negativity.

It’s the end of the road for the 2018 championship campaign for Armagh which saw them involved in 5 championship matches obtaining 3 wins and 2 defeats. After a very poor showing in the Ulster championship against Fermanagh the team and management came in for some rightly deserved criticism which was way over the top in a lot of cases. Credit though to all involved as they re-grouped and won three rounds of the qualifiers which confirmed their status as Division Three champions. 

As I advocated from the start of the year, League promotion was Armagh’s priority and it has been achieved. The Ulster championship performance was a low point but anything after that, including defeat to Roscommon was a boost as the inexperienced team improved game after game. Just shy of the Super 8’s and still within the top 12 teams in the country is where Armagh are at presently. A big learning curve and step up in class awaits in Division Two next year with retaining their divisional status the first priority for this evolving team.

Armagh – B Hughes; P Burns, B Donaghy, G McCabe; M Shields (1-0), R Owens, A Forker (0-1); C Vernon, C Mackin; R Grugan (0-5, 2f), J Hall (0-1), N Grimley (0-5, 3f, 1 ’45); R McShane (0-1), A Murnin (0-4), S Sheridan (0-1). Subs: J McElroy for McCabe (33mins), R McQuillan for Sheridan (41), N Rowland for Donaghy (47), G McParland (0-1) for Mackin (51), J Duffy for Hall (61), K Dyas for Murnin (64)

Roscommon – C Lavin; D Murray, N McInerney, S McDermott; J McManus, P Domican, C Devaney (0-1); E Smith (2-1), T O’Rourke; C Murtagh (0-6, 2f), C Cregg (0-3), N Kilroy; D Smith (0-3), N Daly, D Murtagh (0-6, 5f). Subs: G Patterson for Domican (41mins), F Cregg (0-1) for C Murtagh (54), C Compton (0-1) for D Smith (58), C Daly for McDermott (60), F Cregg for Kilroy (64), I Kilbride for N Daly (72)

Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan)

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