Grim day at Casement

June 8, 2010


The fairytale start to Paddy O Rourke’s tenure as Armagh manager was suddenly turned into a nightmare by Monaghan, following their Ulster championship quarter final clash in a grim day for Armagh football at Casement Park. Monaghan were overwhelming 1-18 to 0-9 winners a result that no one could have forecast or envisaged before the ball was thrown in and especially twelve minutes into the match when Armagh led 4-1, having scored in every one of their first four forays inside the Farney forty yard line.

While many Armagh suppporters will cite the very harsh dismissal of Brian Mallon on the stroke of halftime for a high challenge on Monaghan substitute Rory Woods as the contributory factor for this loss, for me it was the only goal of the game which transformed this match in favour of Monaghan. The stands, terraces and pressbox were a haven of excitement and rumour as news filtered through of reported dressing room upheaval in Monaghan with regular defender Darren Hughes donning the goalkeepers jersey in place of the injured Shane Duffy. Seamus McEnaney’s selection call of bringing Eoin Lennon to midfield in place of JP Moan, who reverted to defence instead of Hughes, resulted in the sub-goalkeeper not getting on the team bus for Casement.With Ulster SFC debuts given to Colin Walshe and Kieran Hughes, Banty’s eggs were all in the one basket for his bid for successive championship victories over the Orchard County in less than a year.

Armagh’s chief marksman Stevie McDonnell was on fire with 3 points from three touches as he ran the Moan brothers ragged. When Jamie Clarke, in from the start in place of the named Ryan Henderson, added a fourth Armagh point to a solitary converted free from Paul Finlay on seven minutes (incidentially his hundreth in championship football) the alleged disarray in the Monaghan camp looked to be real. The open attacking football of the first 10 minutes had taken everyone by surprise given the 100 minutes of painful suffering that we had to endure in their last championship meeting in the qualifiers last year.

Gollogly and JP Moan had picked up early yellow cards as impressive Armagh, with a preliminary round win under their belts, looked set to make that count against a Monaghan side without competetive action for some six weeks since securing their survival in division one of the league. It was a case of unlucky 13 for Armagh as it was on that minute of the match that the impressive Gary McQuaid charged forward with the ball before placing an exquisite ball to Hanratty who then handpassed to Tommy Freeman with the Magheracloone All-Star justifying that 2007 call with a cool low finish to the net giving Hearty no chance. The sides were level 0-4 to 1-1. Debutant Colin Walshe picked up a yellow card for pulling down Jamie Clarke and Aaron Kernan regained the lead for Armagh from the resulting free. One of Armagh’s chief tormentors, Paul Finley, levelled with his first point from play but once again Armagh went back in front. The Orchard counties best player on the day Paul Duffy made a telling run through the heart of the Monaghan defence before parting the leather to Stevie who fired over his fourth point of the match on eighteen minutes. Alas from an Armagh point of view it was to be the Killeavy ace’s last score of the game and also the last Armagh score for 30 minutes.

The telling sideline influence of the Monaghan backroom team headed by Paul Grimley took over at this stage with the booked Gollogly and the run ragged Dessie Mone replaced by Rory Woods and Dermot McArdle. The supply line to the inside Armagh duo of McDonnell and Clarke was reduced to a trickle as Monaghan ruled the roost between the two forties. A timely flick of the hips from Freeman nudged Andy Mallon out of the way as he shot over the levelling point on 21 minutes. Freeman would repeat that trick on the Pearse Og man some 40 minutes later with the same result a point as Armagh sought a free, from the card happy referee Martin Sludden.Conor McManus from a very acute angled free fired Monaghan into the lead for the very first time 1-4 to 0-6 and they never looked back from then on as Finlay (2) and Freeman added points before the short whistle to leave it 1-7 to 0-6 at the break. The Mallon sending off was the half-time talking point as was how would 14 man Armagh re-group for the second half.

The answer was simple, the Orchard County, despite the interval introduction of James Lavery and Kevin Dyas for Malachy Mackin and Vincie Martin never got to grips with the game. It was first half tormentors Freeman and Finlay who put Armagh firmly on the backfoot with points followed by two more from the boots of Hanratty and Corey. Four points in as many minutes had the Armagh challenge dead and buried in the water as it stood 1-11 to 0-6. Monaghan then adopted a, what we have we hold approach, allowing Armagh come back at them. Persistance from Jamie Clarke was rewarded with his second point of the game, ending a 30 minute barren spell for Armagh. It was not until the 52nd minute that the defender, come goalkeeper in between the posts for Monaghan was asked a serious question about his goalkeeping. Another fine run from Armagh defender Duffy saw him power his shot goalwards but Hughes saved the green flag at the expense of a white one to cut the deficit to 6 points. Monaghan looked edgy but a miss from a free by Stevie and a Swift effort dropping into the keeper’s hands signalled a new attacking approach from Monaghan which yielded 5 unanswered points.

It was that man Finlay with a wonderful left-footed 45 from the right wing, his team’s first score in 20 minutes who got the scores rolling again for the winners as substitute Hugh McElroy fired over a nice point as Freeman beat Andy Mallon to the ball and fisted over the bar in the 61st minute, making it 1-14 to 0-8. Finlay popped over a sideline ball and the other Freeman, Damien got in on the scoring act. Gareth Swift curled over one of the best points of the day to interrupt the Monaghan flow but midfielder Dick Clerkin completed the rout in some style by notching the last two points of the game the last one a magnificient long range effort.

It was a grim day all round for the Orchard County who have mixed the good and the bad all year. This championship performance was akin to the league display at Pairc Escler against Down where once again Armagh could not muster a responce to losing a man. But the players recovered from that Saturday night to go on to better things as we know. The word on the street coming into this match was that Monaghan were motoring rightly which was proven correct. The Farney management had the inside line on their opponents and targeted accordingly with success. Monaghan came with a more refreshing attacking approach which was not their norm over the past few years. It was not until they went 8 points in front in the second half that they resorted to type, going scoreless for 20 minutes as they soaked up the pressure but once they went back on the attack they had the Orange brigade heading for the M1 well before the long whistle.

Once the supply to the front two of Armagh was cut off there was no danger. Armagh could only manage 3 points in 58 minutes of championship football. Players with big reputations built up during the course of that successful division two league campaign failed the big test today. Collectively Armagh were very poor and to be fair to everyone involved they are a lot better than what was on display at Casement or are they? The qualifiers will be coming up on June 26 and already there are some heavy hitters in the pot following a bad weekend for fancied teams as Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare and Connacht champions Mayo will join Armagh in the pot for the draw.

Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, V Martin, P Duffy (0-1), C McKeever, F Moriarty, C Vernon, K Toner, M Mackin, A Kernan (0-1), G Swift (0-1), B Mallon, S McDonnell (0-4), J Clarke (0-2). Subs: J Lavery for Mackin, K Dyas for Martin

Monaghan: D Hughes; D Mone, JP Mone, C Walshe; D Freeman (0-1), V Corey (0-1), G McQuaid; D Clerkin (0-2), Eoin Lennon; S Gollogly, P Finlay (0-7), K Hughes; C Hanratty (0-1), C McManus (0-1), T Freeman (1-4). Subs: R Woods for Gollogly, D McArdle for D Mone, H McIlroy (0-1) for Hanratty, F Caulfield for K.Hughes , N McAdam for D Freeman