Ideal Start for Armagh
Kieran McGeeney got his tenure as Armagh manager off to the ideal start, delivering what was required, a Division Three League title and promotion to Division Two.
The All-Ireland winning captain will know that it is the length of summer football on which he will be judged, but for now he and his management team can be satisfied that they have appeased the satiable appetite of their supporters by putting a senior trophy into Armagh’s football cabinet for the first time since the 2008 replayed Ulster final victory over Fermanagh.
At a sparsely attended Croke Park, early arrivals were treated to a high scoring Division Four final in which Offaly defeated Longford 4-16 to 2-12.
Armagh made 2 changes from the selected 15 with both named midfielders, team captain Ciaran McKeever and Aaron Findon being replaced by Kevin Dyas and Ciaran O’Hanlon. The selection re-jig saw Aidan Forker and Ethan Rafferty start at midfield.
The late changes may have been the cause of a sluggish slow start from the Orchard County who did not find their feet until 10 minutes had elapsed.
Tomas Corrigan opened the scoring from play inside 2 minutes. Divisional top scorer Sean Quigley opened his own account with a brace of pointed frees to stretch the Fermanagh lead to 3 nil after 6 minutes. Armagh had 3 balls kicked into the keeper’s hands as they struggled to get into the game.
On 11 minutes it all changed as Andrew Murnin, who impressed on the edge of the square, linking well with corner man Jamie Clarke was fouled when gaining possession. Tony Kernan got the first of his top scoring tally of 6 points from the resulting free. Fermanagh stretched the lead to 4-1 immediately from the kick out through Ruairi Corrigan.
On the quarter hour Murnin linked with Clarke, who halved the deficit and 5 minutes later a foul on Murnin enabled Kernan to cut the deficit to the minimum 4-3. A sweeping Armagh involving Kernan, Dyas and Murnin set up Aidan Forker for a goal but he blazed the ball over the cross bar for the levelling point.
Successive fouls on the 24th minute on Miceal McKenna and O’Hanlon left Tony Kernan the task of firing Armagh into a lead they would never relinquish.
Two minutes later came a possible game changer as Finnian Moriarty got a barrage of cards from Tipperary official, Derek O’Mahoney yellow, black, followed by red and Armagh were down to 14 men, 11 minutes from the short whistle. A Quigley free, following a foul on Flaherty restored parity at 5 all.
A raiding Andy Mallon got fouled with the free being moved forward before being expertly converted by Ethan Rafferty to make it 6-5 on the half hour. From the resulting kick-out O’Hanlon gained possession off loaded to Murnin who, in turn, found Clarke who dissected the uprights to add to the lead.
Tomas Corrigan interrupted the Armagh flow with a good point from play to leave the minimum between them. Murnin gained great possession following good work by Morgan, once again a defender fouled Murnin allowing Kernan score his fourth free of the half to put 2 points 8-6 between the teams.
One of the best moves of the half saw Armagh open up the Fermanagh defence in added time with Devenish goalkeeper Thomas Treacy pulling off a great save from Dyas at the expense of a 45. The 45 was punched back across the goal and was pulled on first time by Murnin but once again keeper Treacy excelled, stopping with his feet. McKenna put the loose ball wide as the ref blew the short whistle.
Fourteen man Armagh were 2 points to the good, missed a couple of goal chances, had scored 3 points from play and 5 from frees, with Fermanagh replying with an even split of their 6 points between play and frees. Fermanagh would have the interval to sort out their extra man strategy but it was obvious that their full-back line needed support to deal with the Murnin – Clarke dominance.
Peter McGrath replaced his full-back for the second half as Armagh brought on skipper Ciaran McKeever for McKenna to shake up their defence for the expected onslaught from the full complement of Fermanagh players.
Inside 30 seconds it was Armagh who announced their intent as Clarke set up Kernan for his first point from play.
On the front foot yet another foul on Murnin allowed Rafferty to open up a 4 point gap 10-6 after 37 minutes. The raiding James Morgan was denied in front of goals with Fermanagh Captain Ryan Jones firing a wide. Forker found Clarke, who was fouled, with Rafferty notching his third point from the resulting free. It was all Armagh with Clarke – McKeever – Murnin setting up Mallon who was fouled as O’Callaghan picked up a yellow before Kernan pointed a free.
At about the same time it took Armagh to open their first half account, Fermanagh managed their opening score of the second half, through a Quigley free. Aidan Forker, who picked up a yellow was replaced by Eugene McVerry. O’Hanlon, McKenna, Clarke, Kernan, combined to set up Murnin for a goal chance, stopped once again by Treacy who was then robbed by the ball being punched from his grasp to the net by Murnin but the ref gave the keeper the benefit of the doubt, awarding a free out.
The Ernesmen began to rally with Corrigan adding his third point to the scoreboard. A Quigley free reduced the margin to a green flag on 53 minutes.
A 5 man Armagh move ended with O’Hanlon scoring a very good and needy point to make it 13-9 as Stephen Harold replaced Murnin.
Two minutes after the hour mark, Quigley left a goal between them as Gavin McParland and Caolan Rafferty were introduced, replacing Ethan Rafferty and Ciaran O’Hanlon. Armagh looked to be trying to keep control of the final 10 minutes, unlike when the teams met in the league round at the Athletic Grounds.
Armagh swept down field with Shields, Clarke and McKeever interchanging before finding Harold whose efforts went off the upright and over for a 4 point cushion.
As the game entered added on time a misplaced Vernon pass to McKeever brought Fermanagh a free which was converted by Quigley.
Armagh replied with Clarke setting up Dyas for a point, then Clarke off loaded to Kernan who placed Harold to notch his second point of the night, which concluded the scoring.
A comfortable 5 points winning margin for 14 men, Armagh was set up by a very solid defence performance and a tremendous work rate throughout the field. Fermanagh only managed a point from play in the entire second half despite holding numerical superiority.
Winning goalkeeper Niall Geoghegan had a very easy untroubled night unlike his counterpart Treacy who saved Fermanagh from a much heavier defeat.
As already stated, Armagh have taken the first steps required of the 2015 campaign. In truth the Orchard men achieved their early goals without coming under any undue pressure. From a management view point the graph is on a very much upward curve, loads of players given plenty of game time, plenty of competition for emerging for places, a very good squad of players developing as those off the bench in Croker can verify.
It is now all about the championship and if the early season momentum can be maintained and the necessary step up in performance level reached. The worry for the upcoming championship campaign will be the injury list that may develop. The orange marching season looks to be heading in the right direction and it will take a good outfit to re-route them from their objective
Armagh – N Geoghegan; A Mallon, C Vernon, M Murray; J Morgan, F Moriarty, M Shields; C O’Hanlon (0-1), K Dyas (0-1); T Kernan (0-6, 5f), M McKenna, A Forker (0-1); E Rafferty (0-3f), A Murnin, J Clarke (0-2). Subs: C McKeever for M McKenna, E McVerry for A Forker, S Harold (0-2) for A Murnin, G McParland for E Rafferty, C Rafferty for C O’Hanlon.
Fermanagh – T Treacy; M Jones, T Daly, M O’Brien; B Mulrone, R McCluskey, N Cassidy; R Jones, R O’Callaghan; P McCusker, R Corrigan (0-1), D McCusker; T Corrigan (0-3), S Quigley (0-7, 6f, 1’45), C Flaherty. Subs: D Kille for T Daly, A Breen for P McCusker, C Jones for R Corrigan, D McQuade for C Flaherty, S Cullen for R O’Callaghan.
Referee – D O’Mahoney