With 10 minutes remaining, all of Armagh’s hard worked seemed to be worth it, as they had matched a heavily fancied Derry side all over the park for 50 minutes. Their defence stood strong all afternoon with the Oak Leaf County getting through their defensive shape just once, and they took their chance in emphatic fashion.
PJ McAleese’s goal was a sight to behold, with the fast hands of the Derry attack cutting through Armagh, McAleese displayed a coolness and composure not usually possessed by a man of such a young age. With the keeper doing everything right, rushing out to shorten the space between the forward and the goal, McAleese simply chipped the ball over the helpless net minders head, and saw his shot roll across the goal line to seal victory for his side.
Both defences were on top throughout the 60 minutes of action, with conditions leaving it extremely difficult for any form of attacking football to be displayed. The swirling wind that whirled around the Athletic Grounds played no real advantage for either side, but it meant that hand passing was the best form of keeping possession and moving the ball, neither team willing to kick too often.
The first 20 minutes saw the sides commence in some shadow boxing, neither side willing to let their guard down and strike the first blow. The home side did finally make the break through with a Ciaran Donnelly point, James Walsh’s excellent pass allowing Donnelly to spin round and curl the ball over the bar.
Enda Downey pointed a close range free to level matters before Oisin King converted a placed ball of his own, after Ryan Shorts darting run had been halted by a foul. Michael McConville struck for the home side three minutes later, with a brilliant point from near the sideline. This was the final score of the half, with Armagh heading down the tunnel the happier of the two teams leading 0-3 to 0-1.
The second period again got off to a slow start, with the crowd having to wait 14 minutes for the 5th score of the game, a pointed free from Derry full forward PJ McAleese. Derry levelled the tie four minutes later with Matthew Downey the man this time knocking the ball over the black spot from the dead ball.
Downey was again on target, from open play this time, as Derry nudged themselves in front for the first time in the game, the score 0-4 to 0-3 with ten minutes left to play. The game was still very much up for grabs at this stage, but then came the vital play in the form of McAleese’s goal, with seemingly no way back for Armagh.
Dara O’Callaghan ensured his side would fight to the end with a pointed free but this was matched by an Enda Downey score to give Derry some breathing space again. Armagh continued to press and search for scores, the closest they got was substitute Sean Rocks being blocked on the goal line, with calls for a penalty turned down by the referee.
This is the third time in 12 months these sides have went to battle, in last season’s Ulster Championship Derry overcame Armagh 3-17 to 1-5 while also having 12 points to spare during this year’s league fixture. Armagh have undoubtedly narrowed the gulf between themselves and last year’s Ulster finalists, while they still remain in the competition due to the back door system. They now face Antrim next Saturday in the Athletic Grounds with the boys certainly deserving a chance to redeem themselves and display the potential within the squad.
Team: Shea Magill, Peter McGrane, Ryan Shortt, Odhran McKeown, Lee Rice, Sean McVerry, Redmond French, Dara O’Callaghan (0-1), James Walsh, Michael McConville (0-1), Ciaran Donnelly (0-1), Sean Quigley, Caolan Reavey, Mark McKeever, Oisin King (0-1). Subs: Rory Kearney for S. Quigley, Jack Cunningham for J. Walsh, Sean Rocks for C. Donnelly, Adam Garvey for M. McConville, Shea Vallely for R. French, Niall Dummigan for L. Rice