● ALLIANZ NFL DIV 3 Armagh 0-10 Louth 0-8
It is mission accomplished as far as Armagh players and management are concerned. Prior to the start of the Allianz National Football League Division Three new Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney and his management team were given one task by supporters –get the team back into Division Two- that feat has been accomplished with one game still to go and also sees the Orchard County undefeated into the bargain. With a trip to Sligo next Sunday finishing off the League series a bonus is that Armagh have secured a Croke Park date Sat April 25 against Fermanagh to decide who will be the Division Three League champions.
The meeting with Pete McGrath’s Fermanagh side will give the opportunity to avenge the 1-10 apiece draw the sides played at the Athletic Grounds on March 7. Both Armagh and Fermanagh (away to Clare in their last game) have amassed 11 points each (5 wins and a draw) with the Ernesmen top of the table on scoring difference following their 1-12 to 0-7 win over relegated Wexford. Tipperary are 3 points behind the Northern duo. With a League final place secured, Armagh and Fermanagh will be playing to preserve their unbeaten runs against Sligo and Clare who will need something from those games as they could get involved in relegation permutations should results elsewhere go against them.
Before a ball was kicked in Division Three Armagh were the odds-on favourites to win it. Favourites tag is one that does not sit that easily with Armagh and true to form they gave a few anxious moments but got over the line with a bit to spare. Amazingly it was the team’s performances on home soil at the Athletic Grounds which gave cause for most concern. Fortunate to pick up both points in the opening League match with Tipperary, Armagh proceeded to throw away a home point to Fermanagh having been 8 points clear at one point and then the worst home display of the lot the 0-10 to 0-8 win over Louth that secured promotion.
Saturday night last was a far from ideal night for football with driving wind and rain making things very difficult against a Louth team that had the better of the previous two meetings of the teams with a draw and a win on their last visit to the Cathedral City in 2013. Armagh raced into a 3-1 lead with points from Jamie Clarke, Ethan Rafferty and Ciaran O’Hanlon who was one of two changes to the selected team replacing Peter Carragher and the other seeing James Morgan make a return in place of Mickey Murray. A home goal at this stage could have scuppered the Louth challenge but it was spurned as a poorly struck penalty from Jamie Clarke was saved by keeper Neil Gallagher and it inspired the Wee County to take the lead through three unanswered Ryan Burns points to go with their opening score from Declan Byrne. Clarke atoned for his penalty miss with a levelling point but Burns regained the lead for the visitors but an injury time free from Tony Kernan ensured equality at the short whistle at 5 points each.
The quality of the football failed to improve in the second half with the miss-firing home team continuing where they had left off at the interval. The one ‘Shining light’ O’Hanlon edged Armagh ahead but Burns levelled before the hosts got a great boost or so it seemed as Louth were reduced to 14 following a second yellow for Dessie Finnegan. The visitors responded to the reduction in numbers by taking the lead as Burns took his personal tally to 6 points. Armagh substitute Gavin McParland lobbed over Armagh’s seventh point to level things for the sixth time in the match. Aidan Forker and Derek Maguire exchanged points to make it 8 all with 5 minutes left on the clock. Aidan Forker edged Armagh back in front and fittingly man of the match O’Hanlon tagged on an insurance point but the Wee County were well aggrieved to be denied a penalty claim that might have allowed them the opportunity to pinch the points.
Armagh had dug out a victory without any semblance of a good team performance which is always a good sign. There was so much wrong on Saturday night with so many players off their game you have to put it down to just one of those nights. The positives have to be taken out of such games and the main one was that when the game was there to be won and lost Armagh swooped to win it as they did against Clare the last day and Tipperary to start off a successful League campaign. As the heading says “‘Mission accomplished’ is the bottom line with an awful lot of new young players getting game time. Armagh management did not think that they would have to use 31 players in 6 League games. With the u-21’s in action on Wednesday night at Brewster Park 8pm v Tyrone and the possibility of a final place the week after Armagh Senior team could have yet another new look when they take the field at Markievicz Park, Sligo at 3pm next Sunday.
Armagh: P Morrison; M Shields, C Vernon, J Morgan; C McKeever, F Moriarty, A Mallon; A Findon, C O Hanlon (0-3); T Kernan (0-1), M McKenna, A Forker (0-2); J Clarke (0-2), E Rafferty (0-1), A Murnin Subs-G. McParland (0-1) for Murnin, E McVerry for Kernan, B Donaghy for Moriarty
Allianz FL3 P W D L Dif Pts
Fermanagh 6 5 1 0 32 11
Armagh 6 5 1 0 30 11
Tipperary 6 4 0 2 23 8
Sligo 6 2 0 4 10 4
Clare 6 2 0 4 -6 4
Louth 6 2 0 4 -24 4
Limerick 6 2 0 4 -25 4
Wexford 6 1 0 5 -40 2
Allianz FL Division 3
Sligo v Armagh, Markievicz Park, 3pm
Louth v Limerick, Drogheda, 3pm
Clare v Fermanagh, Cusack Park, 3pm
Tipperary v Wexford, Clonmel, 3pm