On the long road to recovery
● NFL Div 3 Longford 3-9 Armagh 3-11
Armagh came away from Pearse Park Longford with their first brace of league points after withstanding a late home rally, a thing they had failed to do in their two previous encounters. For the third time in the league to date Armagh were in a very comfortable position leading by 6 points with 10 minutes to go, the opening match away to Sligo ended in a draw, the home game with Laois in defeat and despite allowing 14 man Longford to come within a point Armagh were able to rally to score through Rory Grugan for a 2 point 3-11 to 3-9 victory.
Manager Kieran McGeeney made 4 changes to his selected team as Blaine Hughes made his debut in goals, Aaron Findon came into midfield with Jamie Clarke and Andrew Murnin in attack as goalkeeper Matthew McNiece, Ben Crealey, Anto Duffy and Oisin MacIomhair dropped to the bench. The Glennon Brothers pitch thankfully survived a late referees inspection following the torrential rain which enabled this vital fixture get the go ahead.
Armagh made a whirlwind start hitting the hosts with 1-4 without reply. Rory Grugan opened the scoring with Andrew Murnin doubling the lead before off loading to Stefan Campbell who notched point number three. When Findon found Jamie Clarke the Rangers ace registerd his first goal of the campaign quickly followed by a pointed Grugan free. The rattled hosts replied with 2 Robbie Smyth points with Campbell turning provider for Murnin to add point number 5. Murnin delivers a high ball fetched by Oisin O Neill who loses the ball on hitting the ground but has the presence of mind to back heel the ball to the back of the net and minutes later he lofted over a long range free to make it 2-6 to 0-2. A defence splitting move by Armagh should have yielded a third goal but only produced a point. Campbell stretched the Armagh lead to 11 points. Longford grabbed a late lifeline as the half drew to a close with a Liam Connerton goal followed by points from Dermot Brady and Smyth to leave the score 2-7 to 1-4 at the short whistle.
Armagh goaled to open the second half scoring as Murnin sent O’Neill through on goals but his effort was saved by Paddy Collum but Campbell was on hand to fire the rebound to the net. Longford kept plugging away with points from Michael Quinn, Smyth, Diarmuid Masterson reducing the deficit and were right back in contention on 59 minutes when James Givney shot through a ruck of players to the back of the Armagh net. The visitors replied with a Clarke point to leave it 3-8 to 2-7 as the hosts lost top scorer Smyth to a black card. Stefan Campbell converted two frees to extend the lead to 6 points as home player Dermot Brady was dismissed with a second yellow. There was 5 minutes of added on time posted up when an awful defensive mix-up by Armagh allowed Larry Moran in for a goal minutes after Quinn had converted a “45”. Shades of what happened in the last two games were haunting Armagh supporters especially when Barry McKeon cut the deficit to the minimum. Armagh re-grouped with the introduction of vastly experienced Ciaran McKeever steading the defence. Defender Mark Shields bombed forward after Armagh had broke up a Longford attack and with the posts within range the Whitecross man was fouled enabling Grugan, who had started the day’s scoring, bring it to an end leaving Armagh 3-11 to 3-9 in front.
For Armagh it was once again a mixture of good and bad but the biggest plus this time when the acid test came they responded by crossing the winning line. This victory coupled with other results in the Division sees Armagh up into third spot and right back in the promotion race. Next up for Armagh are Offaly who are visitors to the Athletic Grounds next Sunday March 5 at 2-30. Offaly were beaten at home 2-13 to 0-14 by table toppers Louth (unbeaten in 3 starts) and have also been beaten by Longford 1-12 to 0-10 but have a 0-23 to 1-7 win over Antrim who surprised Sligo at the weekend by beating them.
Armagh will gain a lot of confidence from the win over Longford and with the manager still trying to find the right blend the position has changed now that the monkey is off their back with a win. 47 points scored in 3 games shows that Offaly are dangerous and will be hard to beat but a win will set Armagh up nicely for their trip to Drogheda to take on current table toppers Louth on March 19. Armagh scorers- Stefan Campbell (1-4), Jamie Clarke (1-1), Oisin O’Neill (1-1), Rory Grugan (0-3), Andrew Murnin (0-2). Longford scorers: Robbie Smyth 0-4 (2f), James McGivney, Liam Connerton, Larry Moran 1-0 each, Michael Quinn 0-2 (1’45) Dermot Brady, Barry McKeon, Diarmuid Masterson 0-1 each