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Clarke brace breaks Wickow resistance

All-Ireland SFC Round 1B Qualifier: Armagh 2-17 Wicklow 2-7

On their last visit to the Athletic Grounds it was an early two goal salvo from Jamie Clarke which set Armagh on their way to a facile 2-21 to 0-2 victory over Wicklow. This time round it was a late brace of goals from the same player which gave the home side a rather flattering 10 point win 2-17 to 2-7. The end result did little justice to a gallant game Wicklow side who will bemoan the lack of a free taker who could have kept them in the game or given them the right impetus at key stages of the game, instead the Garden County travelled home having squandered 8 very scoreable frees and accumulated 10 wides. Indeed when James Stafford half-volleyed the dropping ball to the back of the Armagh net with his first touch on 56 minutes the visitors were only a point in arrears but this green flag proved to be their last score as Armagh tagged on 2-3 without reply to book their place in the second round of qualifiers.

Armagh showed 3 changes from the team that started in the defeat by Donegal, Finnian Moiriarty, Captain Ciaran McKeever and midfielder Aaron Findon all on the injury list were replaced by St Pat’s duo Sean Connell and Mickey Murray and Brendan Donaghy. The good sized attendance of over 6,000 was treated to a very slow start to the game with intensity at a premium and basic errors plentiful. An Andrew Murnin point was all that was on offer in the opening 10 minutes before Jamie Clarke struck over two very good points as Wicklow chalked up the wides, they finally broke their duck on 18 minutes through Darren Hayden to cancel out a fourth home point from Caolan Rafferty. The game was steadily growing in pace and intensity with Armagh enjoying the lion’s share of possession and squandering a few goal opportunities. A diving effort from McKenna came off the butt of the upright but the Grange man got the next minor to make it 5-1.A long punt forward saw Brendan Donaghy misread the bounce enabling John McGrath gain possession and his mis-hit shot squirmed past McNeice for a Wicklow goal out of the blue. Paul Cronin pointed a free and it was a draw game, 0-5 to 1-2. Armagh finished the half the stronger with all the Armagh scores coming from play giving them a 0-9 to 1-2 interval lead.

Wicklow made two interval changes and started with a purpose as Ciarán Hyland opened the second half scoring with an excellent driving run and shot. Ethan Rafferty showed Wicklow what they were missing by converting a free following good work by Murnin. Wicklow with substitutes McGraynor and McWalter to the fore, carried the fight to Armagh and kept them within touching distance with a Cronin free and a fisted McGraynor point. McKenna and Cronin both from play swopped points and another from Croinin was cancelled by a Forker point. Armagh introduced Declan McKenna and Mark McConville for Forker and Connell. Stafford fired home the visitor’s last score, the goal, to leave the minimum between them 0-14 to 2-7. Two super Ethan Rafferty points and the other from Caolan Rafferty which was sandwiched in between the two Clarke goals. Clarke, who had been very quiet in the second half, pounced for two goals one a mazy jinking run past three defenders before finding the net and then netted after the unselfish Michael  McKenna set him up.

In a game that was never going to be a win win scenario for the home side they did what was asked of them-won the game. The play, at times, was sloppy and dis-jointed but the team was recovering from a very bad day at the office on the previous outing. The win is a confidence booster even though it may not have been delivered in a suitable manner in a lot of people’s eyes. Armagh are in the hat for Monday’s draw and the people in the pot to face them will be more afraid of playing them that they will be of playing whoever they draw.

ARMAGH: M McNeice; A Mallon, C Vernon, S Connell; J Morgan, B Donaghy, M Murray; C Rafferty, E Rafferty (0-4); S Campbell (0-1), M McKenna (0-3), A Forker (0-1); T Kernan, A Murnin (0-2), J Clarke (2-4). Subs: D McKenna for Forker (52), M McConville for Connell (52), C O’Hanlon for Kernan (58), S Forker for Campbell (68), G McParland for Murnin (69).

WICKLOW: R Lambert; A Murphy, R O’Brien, C Hyland; D Healy, P McLoughlin, M Kenny; A McLoughlin, D Woods; S Kelly, N Gaffney, D Hayden (0-1); P Cronin (0-4), T Kelly, J McGrath (1-0). Subs: C McGraynor (0-1) for Gaffney (HT), P McWalter for Kenny (HT), J Stafford (1-0) for Woods (54), D Odlum for McGrath (55), P Cunningham for Kelly (55), B McCrea for Cronin (68)

Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)