Armagh’s season came crashing to a halt with a gallant display against Mayo on Saturday evening. Armagh left it all out on the playing field and Kieran McGeeney’s men can end the year with their heads held high as they gave the Armagh support plenty to cheer about in Castlebar and throughout the year.
They will rue some missed chances of course, particularly Jamie Clarke’s second half effort on goal which was turned on to the post by Mayo’s number one David Clarke. Their defence stood up soundly all afternoon with Brendan Donaghy’s presence as the extra body in round the ‘D’ area resulting in turnover after turnover.
The sides were evenly matched during the opening 35 minutes as they were level five times throughout the opening period. Conor Loftus drew first blood with a pointed free after four minutes before Rory Grugan levelled matters within 60 seconds, a beautiful shimmy allowing him to find the space to kick over his sides first.
Grugan was involved once more when his brilliantly weighed pass found Aidan Nugent inside, the Cullyhanna man turned his marker and throw the ball across the square to the waiting Rian O’Neill who palmed home from close range to get Armagh off to the perfect start after 6 minutes.
The lead was short lived however as the end to end style of the first half continued when Andy Moran sent through Fionn McDonagh who effort blazed through the legs of Blaine Hughes to see the game level once again. O’Neill calmly pointed from a dead ball after Jamie Clarke had been fouled while Grugan again popped up to swing the ball between the posts, Armagh now two ahead with 10 minutes played.
Two quick fire scores from Loftus (free) and McDonagh tied the game before Jamie Clarke tapped over the easiest of frees straight in front of the posts. Darren Coen opened his account with a great point from near the right hand sideline but again the sides where all square when Shields set up Stefan Campbell after Brendan Donaghy had turned the ball over in defence.
Paul Hughes and Mark Shields caused endless trouble with their quick turn of pace and forceful forays forward while at the other end Donaghy had clogged up the gap that McDonagh exposed for the Mayo three-pointer. Jason Doherty levelled matters before the final shot of the half gave Mayo the minimum of advantages heading into the break as Paddy Durcan ventured forward for his first seeing Mayo ahead 1-6 to 1-5.
Again the sides couldn’t be separated as Jamie Clarke knocked over his second free of the game after he himself had been fouled. Clarke caused serious headaches for his marker Chris Barrett, with his first point from play, coming from a ridiculous tight angle to give Armagh the lead was again.
A defence splitting pass from Darren Coen cut out the sweeper to leave Kevin McLoughlin one on one inside with the substitute making no mistake in raising a white flag to once again see the sides matched on the score board. Clarke and Niall Grimley traded scores with Coen as the teams still could not be separated while Donal Vaughan broke through to see his left footed effort sail between the posts.
Then came the vital score of the match, Kevin McLoughlin slipped passed the challenge of Brendan Donaghy as he raced through the Armagh rear guard, his right footed, off balance shot found the net and suddenly Mayo were up by four points, the biggest margin between the teams all evening.
That margin only got bigger with the next play as Darren Coen continued to give an exhibition of score taking; his shoot on sight style along with his unbelievable accuracy gave the westerners a comfortable five point lead heading into the final 15 minutes and it seemed that the game was perhaps slipping away from Armagh.
But the men in orange and white refused to quit and only for the strong right hand of David Clarke the result could have been much different. Rian O’Neill demonstrated his excellent range of kicking with a long range pass finding Clarke in the goal mouth, right man right place, but his tame shot spilled along the ground and his namesake David Clarke done enough to see the ball clear.
The Crossmaglen sharpshooter did strike another score with 60 minutes played before Armagh were presented with another golden opportunity. Rian O’Neill’s quick thinking cut out a Mayo pass as he launched in another brilliant ball to find Rory Grugan and with the retreating Mayo defence caught off guard, Clarke rushed off his line to close down Grugan only for the Armagh captain to chip the ball over the crossbar rather than under it, to leave his side three points behind.
Stefan Campbell stepped up to close the deficit to one with two points in quick succession but his scores were soon cancelled out as the introduction of Cillian O’Connor gave Mayo another boost, the substitute kicking two points from frees to widen the gap to three once again as the game entered the final minutes of injury time.
Once more Armagh drove at the Mayo rear guard and were rewarded with O’Neill and Campbell points insuring a tight finale. This was as close as the Orchard County could get however and when Niall Grimley’s long range effort tailed to the right, Maurice Deegan called for the ball and Armagh’s championship run had been cut short for another year, Mayo edging through to the next round with a 2-13 to 1-15 victory.
Kieran McGeeney and his management team will take many positives from their display against Mayo and throughout the entire championship campaign while the focus will now certainly be turning to battling for promotion next season with an exciting young team coming through the ranks.
Armagh: Blaine Hughes, Paddy Burns, Aaron McKay, Paul Hughes, Aidan Forker, Brendan Donaghy, Mark Shields Jarly Og Burns, Niall Grimley (0-1), Jemar Hall, Aidan Nugent, Stefan Campbell (0-4), Jamie Clarke (0-5), Rian O’Neill (1-2), Rory Grugan (0-3). Subs: Ethan Rafferty for A. Nugent, Greg McCabe for A. McKay, Ben Crealey for J. Burns
Mayo: David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Patrick Durcan (0-1), Ciaran Tracey, Aidan O’Shea, Fionn McDonagh (1-1), Conor Loftus (0-2), Mikey Murray, Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran, Darren Coen (0-4). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin (1-1) for A. Moran, Stephen Coen for L. Keegan, Donal Vaughan (0-1) for M. Murray, Cillian O’Connor (0-2) for C. Loftus, Evan Regan for C. Tracey