Championship exit as goals win games

July 26, 2011

That well known cliche “that goals win games” was once again proven to be very accurate as Armagh made their championship exit in Omagh at the hands of their recent fiercest rivals Tyrone 2-13 to 0-13. In Armagh’s case a brilliant Pascal McConnell save denied Jamie Clarke a certain goal with Stevie McDonnell squandering their second clear three pointer by blazing a late penalty over the bar as his team chased the game. Tyrone, who carried and created the greater goal threat managed to take 2 of their four clear opportunities to find the net. In truth their first goal on the stroke of half -time was a gift from Armagh goalkeeper Paul Hearty which allowed Joe McMahon to score and clearly altered the direction and momentum of the match big time in favour of the home side.

In the second half having clawed their way back into contention Armagh conceded a second goal to Tommy McGuigan following a terrific run through the middle by Peter Harte and it was plain sailing from then to the end for deserving winners Tyrone.

The games opening score came from a Peter Harte free after Charlie Vernon was pulled up for overcarrying. Armagh responded quickly with Aaron Kernan finding Malachy Mackin who levelled matters before a Stevie McDonnell free gave Armagh a sixth minute lead. The visitors were shaping up nicely but a darting run from Mark Donnelly ended with a point to make it 2-2. Jamie Clarke hit the upright before Mackin reacted quickest to notch his second point before a second point for Stevie doubled the Orchard lead. The lively Kyle Coney cut the difference to the minimum with his team’s third white flag before the equally lively Miceal O’Rourke struck the next score. Tyrone wasted a good goal opportunity when teenager Sean O’Neill blazed his shot just wide of Paul Hearty’s post after being put clean through by Mark Donnelly. A second pointed free from McDonnell left it 6-3 as the visitors showed that they were more than up for the occasion coping well with anything the hosts had to offer. A first score for some 14 minutes for Tyrone came via a converted free by Harte which was to spark a match changing scoring salvo by the Red Hand brigade. O’Neill split the posts before Brian McGuigan levelled the teams for the third time. For me the game’s turning point arrived as goalkeeper Hearty dwelt on delivering the ball outfield allowing Colm Cavanagh to knock the ball from his grasp leaving Joe McMahon suspiciously close to being in the square to finish to an empty net. Not satisfied with that Tyrone realy went in with their tails up at the break as a Brian McGuigan point closed the half at 1-7 to 0-6. From being three in front and looking good Armagh conceded 1-4 in a 7 minute spell which totally undid all their good early work.

Armagh couldn’t have made a better start to the second-half which saw them register three points on the bounce as McDonnell, Billy Joe Padden and Aaron Kernan looked to have undone the damage from that McMahon goal in the first half. With the next score vital it was the very impressive Peter Harte who elected to take his point as the goal opened up in front of him. The decision proved to be correct as it seemed to sap the resurgence from Armagh’s grasp especially when Mark Donnelly added the next point followed by one from Martin Swift which nullified the early Armagh onslaught. If the first goal changed the direction of the match the second one sealed Tyrone’s place into the fourth round of the All-Ireland SFC qualifier against Roscommon.

On 47 minutes another sizzling run from Peter Harte ripped another hole in the Armagh defence and the youngster unselfishly offloaded to an unmarked Tommy McGuigan, who rifled the ball past Hearty for a second goal. A Harte free quickly followed to put Tyrone six points to the good. Credit to Armagh who never gave up but clearly lacked the penetration to break down a resolute Tyrone defence. Stevie McDonnell added a couple of points to his tally but the Killeavy ace spurned a great opportunity to make it a grand stand finish with five minutes to go when his shot was blocked by a Tyrone foot and Marty Duffy awarded a penalty much to the protests of the Tyrone players.

Stevie blazed over his goal effort, which all but ended his side’s hopes but the veteran forward grabbed the next two scores to leave Armagh within four with time running out. But it was Mickey Harte’s team who would have the final say with points from Mark Donnelly and Sean Cavanagh closing the back door passage for the Orchard County for 2011.

As is the norm following championship exit by teams, speculation regarding the future of the manager is always rife. The biggest complaint for me that can be levelled at Paddy O’Rourke is that after 2 years in charge he was a long way off knowing his starting 15. Look at his team selections throughout the year there were two, three and four changes per match which were all not forced upon him by injuries. In Omagh Armagh gave a truer account of themselves more akin to what they showed against Down but lady luck was not to be on their side at vital stages of the game. Had Armagh reached the break ahead or even at parity against Tyrone they could have pushed on but to find themselves trailing by 4 at the interval would have been hard to take. In his second year in charge Paddy had made some progress in addressing his forward problems but encountered bigger problems in defence which had been his teams forte, even when the scores were hard to come by. The normally reliable Armagh rearguard has shipped a lot more scores than usual this year. Not all the blame can be pinned on the manager’s shoulders as some of the Armagh reliables on the field have become less reliable. There is plenty of talent about but it still a question of harnessing it and getting the right blend. If Paddy O’Rourke is the man to do it, it is up to the powers that be, an alternative choice, given Armagh’s record in the way of appointing one, might not be all that easily found.