Paddy’s charges breech the walls of Derry

May 18, 2010

Make no mistake it was the result which was all important in this Preliminary Round Ulster tie as far as the rival managers was concerned. Forget about the quality, the fractious nature of the contest which saw but 5 second half scores and two players from each team register their respective side’s opening half tally of 0-8 and 1-5.  Throw-in what will be the summer talking point- the silly handpass rule- for good measure and you have a real mess with the only saving grace is that Armagh are still in the Ulster Championship to face Monaghan and Derry are seeking redemption through the back door.

Paddy O’Rourke, making his championship bow as Armagh manager, was facing one of the most daunting championship venues, Celtic Park, where Derry last lost in the Ulster championship when defending their Ulster and All-Ireland title back in 1994 to Down. With inside knowledge of what it takes, O’Rourke prepared his charges properly to breech the walls of Derry some 16 years later with his fast emerging Armagh team. The Burren native will be the first to admit that his Orchard County are far from the finished artice but will also be carrying a wry smile of delight as the momentum which brought league wins over Donegal and Down made it a triple D by downing Derry in their own back yard.

The most fervent of opponents to the Down man taking over the Armagh hotseat must now sit back and acknowledge with the same intensity as they objected, that he has done a hell of a job in his short term in charge of the team. The omens at present are good, Armagh’s only Sam came when the County became the first Preliminary Round winners to lift the Ulster title in 2002. But like his approach all year Paddy will be taking each game as it comes. A renewal with the team which put Armagh out of the championship last year, beating them 0-13 to 0-12 in Clones on June 6 is the next port of call. Armagh are gathering momentum. Incidentially, after putting out Armagh last year, Monaghan were beaten in round two of the qualifiers by guess who ? Derry 3-16 to 0-20

Derry manager Damian Cassidy had made seven changes from the side which exited the All-Ireland qualifiers at the hands of Donegal last year, with left half back Michael Bateson and left half forward Declan Mullan making their championship debuts. Right corner back Brian Og McAlary also made his first championship start, having seen action as a sub last summer. Paddy O’Rourke introduced Malachy Mackin for Barry Shannon from the Armagh team which started the league final with Down. Kieran Toner did not line out at full back as selected, with Andy Mallon and Brendan Donaghy man marking Eoin and Paddy Bradley respectively.

At Celtic Park it was a case of the false dawning after a whirlwind start had promised so much, the match petered out to a slog with poor passages of play not aided by overly-fussy and oftentimes poor refereeing by Maurice Deegan (Laois) with some very contentious frees awarded to both teams, including a penalty lifeline for Derry with 5 minutes left on the clock, which helped spoil the game as any kind of spectacle

40 seconds into the game Brian Mallon raced clear on goal but Derry keeper Barry Gillis pulled off a good save. Mark Lynch opened the scoring with a terrific point from out on the sideline after two minutes. The Ulster championship was out of the blocks and up and running but unfortunately the players played like they were running on bad diesel spluttering to life in fits and starts for the remainder of the half.

The hard grafting Ryan Henderson drew an off the ball foul from Kevin McGuckin leaving Stevie McDonnell with the easy task of levelling before a similar soft free conceded by Andy Mallon allowed Paddy Bradley regain the lead on seven minutes.  McGuckin picked up the first yellow of the afternoon for a cynical challenge on the raiding Finnian Moriarty who had but one thing on his mind -goal. Having hit the upright with his first earlier effort from a free, Aaron Kernan made no mistake to tie matters at 2-2 ten minutes into the game. A terrific run by Paul Duffy right through the Derry defence saw his tame shot drop short into the keeper’s hands. A marvellous exhibition of blocking from Gareth Swift resulted in Derry getting a free with only the ref knowing what for but a grateful Paddy Bradley edged the hosts back in front in the 15th minute by converting the gift.

Stevie McDonnell and his marker Dermot McBride both went into the book for something that happened off the ball.

Bradley, like Kernan, hit the upright from a free before Aaron uncharacteristically dropped one into the keeper’s hand but was on hand to spoil the intended clearance before being fouled and the Rangers star made no mistake with the second bite at the cherry. Almost immediately a soft free to big midfielder Fergal Doherty enabled Lynch put Derry 4-3 in front after 20 minutes. A rare right footed point from play from Aaron (his third on the trot for Armagh) following good combination by Moriarty and Henderson

Centre back Barry McGuigan went off injured for Derry replaced by Barry McGoldrick as Gareth Swift hit a couple of Armagh wides . Swift and Henderson then sent James Lavery charging into the penalty area where he went to ground under a brace of dubious looking challenges but the Laois whistler shirked the big decision of a penalty.

Just shy of the half hour, Derry scored a superb goal with what was to be their only fluent decisive move of the entire match. Patsy Bradley broke up Armagh possession out the field before findingLynch, who went on a raiding run, piercing through the heart of the Armagh rearguard and picking out Fergal Doherty, whose first-time pass across the face of goal wasflicked to the net by the diving Paddy Bradley, 1-4 to 0-4 past a helpless Hearty in the Armagh goal.

Armagh responded to the goal immediately as Stevie from the ground, for a foul on Swift, from 40 meters out made it 0-5 to 1-4. The goal advantage was restored by Lynch’s second converted free following another foul on Eoin Bradley who had picked up a yellow card prior to his team’s goal.

Dromintee’s Vincie Martin came on in place of injured midfielder James Lavery as the Killeavy ace McDonnell tapped over from play following good approach work by Brian Mallon, before the recently crowned footballer of the league, Stevie cut the deficit to the minimum as he stroked over another free to leave it 1-5 to 0-7 entering added on time. Stevie notched his fourth point in a row when he hit a 50- metre free between the uprights to send the teams to the dressing rooms on level terms and all to play for. Ironically the game had become livelier since the goal and the short whistle came at a most in opportune time as a little momentum had been building up. The interval stats for the opening half were interesting with the 14 scores coming from two players on each team Stevie 0-5 and Aaron 0-3 for Armagh with two scores from play with Paddy Bradley 1-2 and Mark Lynch 0-3 for Derry with 1-1 coming from play.

Armagh were out of the dressing rooms first with Charlie Vernon adopting a midfield role and Derry putting their team captain Ger O Kane in at centre back for the second half. Vernon made a strong run fending off the formidable Doherty and pointed with aplomb as Armagh took the lead for the very first time and it was never to be relinquished. Henderson almost increased the gap but his shot struck a post before a high catch from an otherwise in effective Raymond Wilkinson brought a classic block from the defending Aaron Kernan. A sixth Armagh wide by Swift was followed by a point from Ryan Henderson as the Clann Eireann clubman opened his championship account.

On the 45-minute mark, the ever dangerous Eoin Bradley shrugged off Andy Mallon glided past Kieran McKeever for the first Oak Leaf score in twelve minutes. Paddy Bradley missed an easy levelling free for Derry as substitutes Jamie Clarke and James Kielt entered the fray for either side.

Most of the Orange support in attendance had gone to Derry hoping to see a different Clarke, Ronan, introduced as a sub but the Pearse Og man never even made the bench. But the Clarke that was introduced was to have a devestating match-winning championship debut minutes after coming on.

The already booked Derry full forward Eoin Bradley received his marching orders in the 55th minute for a second yellow-card offence, hauling down Aaron Kernan out on the touchline. Derry’s troubles were only beginning as a minute later Crossmaglen Rangers clubman Jamie Clarke got in behind McGuckin to field a high delivery from Stevie and in with a finish the maestro himself, McDonnell would have been proud of, the youngester planted a deadly shot into the bottom right corner of the net. It may have been the game’s first score for fourteen minutes but it was worthy in it’s execution of being the match winner.

Kevin Dyas was introduced by Armagh for Swift as Kieran McKeever received a very harsh yellow card following a textbook out over the sideline shoulder charge on Sean Leo McGoldrick.

Brian Mallon picked up a yellow for a very clumsy challenge as Doherty and Vernon traded wides before the former pulled a muscle chasing the Harps man and was replaced by Joe Diver. Sloppy defensive play from Armagh with Andy Mallon losing the ball led to a Derry penalty. The ball was put across the square and Finnian Moriarty made a strong but fair challenge to catch the high ball but Deegan seperated the hands signalling a penalty, yet the first half Lavery challenge which was far worse was left unpunished.

One would have expected the record goal equalling Paddy Bradley to step up to the plate but it was team captain Gerry O Kane who took the responsibility with the under fire Armagh keeper Hearty pulling off a great save as justice was done. Mickey McNamee was given a championship debut coming in late on.

Even with the introduction of Enda Muldoon, Derry were never able to break through a very solid Armagh defence. A late surge upfield by corner back Brian Og McAlary resulted in him being fouled enabling Lynch to get the last score of the match with his team’s first score for 27 minutes.

Armagh have gone to Derry and held them to two points in the entire second half. The Armagh defence were watertight with their pre match tactics nullyfying a formidable attacking presence. The loss of midfielder Lavery did not interrupt the Armagh flow. The most impressive thing all year with Armagh is how they have utilised their bench. The manager and his team of assistants are reading the games well. Clarke was sprung from the bench to telling effect for the second game in a row. Barry Shannon was unlucky to lose out on the starting 15 but obviously the game plan for Derry involved something different. Aaron Kernan’s role in the forwards was cemented with what I thought was a man of the match performance.The Walls of Derry have been breeched, next up is the challenge to bury Banty’s Ulster hopes in the stoney grey Monaghan soil

Armagh: P Hearty; A Mallon, K Toner, B Donaghy; P Duffy, C McKeever, F Moriarty; C Vernon (0-1), J Lavery; M Mackin, A Kernan (0-3), G Swift; B Mallon, S McDonnell (0-5), R Henderson (0-1). Subs: V Martin for Lavery, J Clarke (1-0) for Henderson, K Dyas for Swift, M McNamee for B Mallon, B Gillis; B Og McAlary, K McGuckin, D McBride; G O’Kane, B McGuigan, M Bateson; F Doherty, Patsy Bradley; SL McGoldrick, M Lynch (0-2), D Mullan; Paddy Bradley (1-2), E Bradley (0-1), R Wilkinson. Subs: B McGoldrick for McGuigan, J Kielt for Wilkinson, M Craigfor Mullan, J Diver for Doherty, E Muldoon for SL McGolderick