Clinical Armagh impressively defeat Monaghan
Having paid the price for their wastefulness in front of goals on their last two visits to Clones, Armagh were clinical on their third match at the venue in 4 weeks as they dumped hosts Monaghan out of the Championship 2-17 to 1-12.
Last year’s beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan had no answer to the second half Orchard onslaught as they outscored their opponents 2-6 to 1-2 as the home side, wind assisted, took 22 second half minutes to trouble the scoreboard by which time Armagh had taken an 8-point lead in this local derby.
As was expected the return from suspension of Brendan Donaghy was one of 3 changes Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney made to the team which started in the Ulster semi-final loss to Cavan. Defenders James Morgan (out with a possible long term injury) and Ryan Kennedy were the other 2 changes as Aaron McKay and Stefan Campbell along with Donaghy were recalled to the starting line-out.
Wind assisted Monaghan were on the scoreboard inside 30 seconds via Jack McCarron but Armagh were level immediately through Mark Shields which set the tone for a rip-roaring score for score open attacking half of football. Conor McManus opened his account to put the hosts back ahead but Brendan Donaghy levelled but it was short lived as Kieran Hughes put Monaghan back in front. Armagh then hit a purple patch as points from Jarly Óg Burns, Rian O’Neill and Paul Hughes gave them a 5-3 lead. A McManus pointed free was cancelled out by a sixth Armagh point from Stefan Campbell but the best point thus far was supplied by last year’s overall championship top scorer McManus with a super individual effort.
It was all out end to end stuff as points from Jemar Hall and Aidan Nugent put a green flag between the teams. When goalkeeper Rory Beggan converted a brace of “45” followed by a McManus free the match was back level amidst the feverish excitement of both sets of supporters. Mícheál Brannigan marked his Monaghan championship debut with a lead point on the half hour before Jamie Clarke registered his first point at the other end as the hosts once again took the lead as Conor McCarthy pointed. Jemar Hall added his second point as he fisted over the equalizer as the short whistle neared but not to be the odd forward out going in at the break Andrew Murnin (the last of the 6 Armagh forwards to score in the half) knocked over the interval lead point. Armagh were 0-11 to 0-10 at the end of the half in which the teams were level on 5 different occasions and no one in attendance wanted to hear the half-time whistle.
Armagh came out of the blocks in the second half with all guns blazing and despite the loss of Murnin through injury replaced by team Captain Rory Grugan gained a stranglehold on the match. Points from both Armagh midfielders Niall Grimley and a second for Jarly Og were followed by an Aidan Forker Orchard point, to open the biggest gap so far, 4 points, between the teams. To compound the Farney troubles they lost Kieran Duffy to a black card and 12 minutes into the half Malachy O’Rourke’s charges were in real trouble. All-Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan brilliantly denied Aidan Nugent a goal but Rian O’Neill slid in the rebound for the game’s opening goal. When Jamie Clarke pointed a free the hosts were facing an uphill battle, an 8-point deficit and some of the home support heading for the exits. To muted applause Dessie Ward recorded Monaghan’s opening score of the second half on 57 minutes but 2 minutes later the queue for the exits increased as O’Neill bagged his second goal after good work and offload by Clarke.
McManus and Clarke traded pointed frees and with 4 minutes to go the scoreboard for Monaghan supporters took on a better look as Jack McCarron rifled a 3 pointer to the Armagh net but too late to influence the result. It was fitting in one of Armagh’s best days that veteran Charlie Vernon (on for the injured Grimley) deep into added-on time, fisted the last point of the match to give Armagh a thoroughly deserved 2-17 to 1-12 victory.
Improving Armagh who had shown great desire, commitment and attitude in their previous 3 games without necessarily gaining due credit because of their failure to hold onto a lead or their failure to convert their goal chances saw it all gel together on Saturday night. Ten different first half scorers Jemar the only one to score twice, thirteen different scorers at the games end, 12 of the starting 15 players on the scoresheet, goal chances converted the evolving jigsaw had fitted perfectly into place. Management can only be delighted with the team’s performance and with Armagh in the hat for Monday’s Round Three draw they are a step closer to reaching the season’s goal Super 8 qualification. With their increasing upward graph and serious attacking potential “the Big Guns” in Round 3 will want to be avoiding the Orchard boys.
Ahead of Saturday night’s game with Monaghan speculation was that the futures of either losing manager would have come under scrutiny. Within minutes of losing Malachy O’Rourke announced his decision to step down after seven years in charge. The Fermanagh man felt the time was right to step aside after guiding the Farney County to two Ulster SFC titles as well as Allianz League Division 2 and 3 titles during his successful tenure.
For his Armagh counterpart the future looks orange following his team’s scintillating performance
ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes, Aidan Forker 0-1, Aaron McKay, Paddy Burns, Brendan Donaghy 0-1, Mark Shields 0-1, Paul Hughes 0-1, Jarlath Óg Burns 0-2, Niall Grimley 0-1, Stefan Campbell 0-1, Aidan Nugent 0-1, Jemar Hall 0-2, Jamie Clarke 0-3 (2f), Rian O’Neill 2-1 (0-1f), Andrew Murnin 0-1.Subs: Rory Grugan for Murnin (inj., 40), Charlie Vernon (0-1) for Grimley (inj., 67), Jason Duffy for Nugent (71), Joe McElroy for P Burns (74).
MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan 0-2 (‘45s), Conor Boyle, Kieran Duffy, Ryan Wylie, Karl O’Connell, Fintan Kelly, Vincent Corey, Niall Kearns, Kieran Hughes 0-1, Ryan McAnespie, Conor McCarthy 0-1, Dessie Ward 0-1, Mícheál Bannigan 0-1, Jack McCarron 1-1, Conor McManus 0-5 (4f), Subs: Drew Wylie for Duffy (black card, 45), Stephen O’Hanlon for Bannigan (51), Shane Carey for McAnespie (53), Barry McGinn for Kearns (58).
Referee: Ciarán Branagan (Down).