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Armagh back on top of the table

Allianz NFL Division 2  Fermanagh 0-10 Armagh 3-14

With none in the weekend weather forecast for the first time in several weeks, Armagh decided to create their own storm with a whopping 13-point victory over Fermanagh in wet and windy conditions at Brewster Park in their re-arranged Division Two of the Allianz Football League. The match on Saturday night must have come close to the postponement decision reached last Sunday due to an unplayable pitch as conditions were every bit as bad.

They say you must learn from your mistakes in football and on that front Armagh management will be more than pleased with their players. Armagh led 1-4 to no score after 24 minutes but unlike away to Westmeath when they led by 1-5 to nil and then squandered an 8-point interval lead before earning a last gasp share of the points. Armagh impressively pressed home their early advantage to put Fermanagh to the sword 3-14 to 0-10 and a winning margin which puts them top of the table on scoring difference from Roscommon their next opponents at the Athletic Grounds this coming Saturday March 14 &6-30 in the penultimate round of the league.

Manager Kieran McGeeney made 3 changes to the side that started against Westmeath with Conor O’Neill, Joe McElroy and Conor Turbitt being replaced by Brendan Donaghy, Ryan Kennedy and Jamie Clarke. Bottom of the table Fermanagh were missing established quartet of players Eoin Donnelly, Conall Jones, Che Cullen and Declan McCusker, and 3 late changes to Ryan McMenamin’s named starting lineout would really question the depth of his playing squad.

Previous memories of going to Enniskillen to witness tight low scoring, loads of men behind the ball, football, were quickly banished from the mind when Jamie Clarke marked his first league start  by turning inside the Erne defender on a sodden muddy surface from a Paddy Burns delivery to cooly side-foot the ball past Fermanagh keeper James McGrath for the game’s opening score. Two Rory Grugan converted frees with an Aidan Nugent point from play sandwiched in between were added to by a Rian O’Neill “45” had given Armagh a 7-point lead before Fermanagh landed their opening score on 25 minutes from Stephen McGullion quickly followed by a second point by James McMahon. Armagh halted the home scoring with 4 unanswered points as Jarly Og Burns, Nugent, Rian O’Neill and Grugan kept the scoreboard ticking over as we entered added on time which yielded a third Fermanagh point courtesy of Eoin McManus which left Armagh 1-8 to 0-3 ahead at the short whistle.

Armagh’s Stephen Sheriden under pressure from Fermanagh’s Stephen McGullion

The home team needed a fast start to the second half, and they got it as McManus doubled his points tally but that score was negated by a third Rian O’Neill point. The outcome of the game was put to bed in fine style on 41 minutes as Aidan Forker was on the end of a free-flowing move as he placed a Mark Shields offload pass, past a for the second time, helpless home keeper McGrath. Oisin O’Neill landed his first and Armagh’s tenth point before playing his part in the score that killed the game off as a contest. A point attempt by Oisin dropped short and as the Fermanagh defence hesitated Mark Shields was alive to divert the dropping ball to Nugent and the Cullyhanna man made no mistake from close range to raise a third green flag for the Orchard County.

Despite facing a 15-point deficit Fermanagh, to their credit bravely battled on and were rewarded with their most productive spell of 4 unanswered points as Armagh introduced 5 substitutes to the game. Ciaran Corrigan, Aidan Breen, Ryan Jones and Eoin McManus were the Erne point scorers before a second Oisin O’Neill point followed by one from brother Rian brought an end to the Fermanagh mini revival. With 4 minutes of added time posted were treated to a point a minute as McManus and Grimley traded points and a second from Jones was followed by the closing score from Armagh substitute Jason Duffy.

The crucial first two points won on the road sees Armagh regain their place at top of the table which has already housed 4 different occupants since the league began. For Fermanagh rooted at the foot of the table the prospect of Division Three football next year is looming large. They travel to Ennis next week for a game against Clare who are 2 points above them and third from the bottom. Ironically Armagh’s last port of call is also Ennis but by then they may already be back in the Division One for the first time since 2012.

ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; Paddy Burns, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker (1-0), Ryan Kennedy, Stephen Sheridan, Aidan Nugent (1-2), Niall Grimley (0-1), Oisin O’Neill (0-2), Rory Grugan (0-2, 2f), Stefan Campbell, Mark Shields, Jarlath Og Burns (0-1), Rian O’Neill (0-4 ,one ’45’), Jamie Clarke (1-1, 1f) Subs: Jason Duffy (0-1) for Campbell (54), Ethan Rafferty for Clarke (62), James Morgan for Burns (62), Greg McCabe for Grugan (66), Aaron McKay for O O’Neill (68)

FERMANAGH: James McGrath, Jonny Cassidy, Niall Cosgrove, Kevin McDonnell, Eoin Shiels, James McMahon (0-1), Shane McGullion, Ryan Jones(0-2), Richard O’Callaghan, Aidan Breen (0-1), Ultan Kelm, Ciaran Corrigan (0-1),  Stephen McGullion (0-1), Eoin McManus (0-4, 3f), Daragh McGurn Subs: Declan McCusker for Cosgrove (30), Kane Connor for Cassidy (38), Tomas Corrigan for Shane McGullion (39), Conall Jones for O’Callaghan (45), Tiernan Bogue for Stephen McGullion (55)

Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)

Division Two table

Teams P W D L Diff PTS

Armagh 5 3 1 1 26 7

Roscommon 5 3 1 1 17 7

Cavan 5 3 0 2 02 6

Westmeath 5 2 1 2 -8 5

Laois 5 2 1 2 -8 5

Clare 5 2 0 3 -6 4

Kildare 5 2 0 3 -2 4

Fermanagh 5 1 0 4 -21 2