Tyrone topple Armagh to secure semi final spot

Armagh 3-15 Tyrone 3-18

A return of 3-15 would win many games but on the night Armagh just didn’t have enough to overcome their rivals Tyrone, who were admittedly the better team on display, although Armagh demonstrated a near say die attitude that saw them spring back from the dead on several occasions.

Niall Sludden ran the show for the Red Hand County from his centre half forward position while Ronan O’Neill notched 2-3 in his first game back, after missing last season. Ben McDonnell’s constant drives from deep troubled Armagh and Darren McCurry also caused headaches, hitting 0-4 in the second period

Rian O’Neill and Rory Grugan top scored for Armagh, putting away 1-3 each while Conor Turbitt continued to impress. A rookie defence struggled with Tyrone’s forward division, with each of the front six getting on the score sheet, before McCurry was introduced at the half time interval.

Tyrone’s two first half goals displayed their superiority but a fortunate Rian O’Neill three-pointer just before the half time break allowed Armagh to head into the changing rooms with hope still remaining for the second half, just four points separating the sides.

Rian O’Neill slotted over a free in the first minute to give Armagh the lead, but this would be the only time the Orchard County got their noses in front throughout the remainder of the contest. Kyle Coney was causing trouble out round the midfield and struck his sides opening point to level the game.

Ronan O’Neill got off the mark to nudge Tyrone ahead but Armagh soon found themselves back on level terms. Oisin O’Neill captured possession from the resulting kick out and Armagh set off on an attack, which ended with Conor Turbitt knocking over a point after earning an attacking mark.

Tyrone doubled the score with two points in as many minutes as Ronan McHugh (free) and centre half back Michael McKernan raised white flags. Once more Turbitt steadied the ship and pulled one back, again calling for a mark after Greg McCabe found him with a pass, and Turbitt made no mistake when claiming his second point.

The visitors began to pull away however and Niall Sludden’s powerful run saw him dance through the Armagh rear-guard before playing in Ronan O’Neill who slipped the ball into the corner of the net and grabbed the opening goal of the game.

A Rian O’Neill brace sandwiched Frank Burns’ only score of the contest, while Conan Grugan traded scores with Stefan Campbell. Man of the Match Niall Sludden got himself off the mark with a well deserved score before disaster struck for Armagh.

A short kick out was lost in a defensive mix up and with the keeper off his line, Ronan O’Neill spotted an opportunity and delightfully chipped the ball over the retreating net minders head to hand Tyrone a commanding 2-7 to 0-6 advantage.

Ronan McHugh added to the margin before Oisin O’Neill pulled one back with a beautiful effort from close to the sideline, using the outside of his right boot to swing the ball over the bar. Soon there was another defensive error to talk about, as Armagh were handed a lifeline just before the break.

Rian O’Neill’s attempted shot dropped just shy of the posts, and Tyrone’s Ben McDonnell seemed to have it under control but a slip in concentration saw the ball drift through his hands and although it fell into the arms of a Tyrone defender, the umpires deemed that it had crossed the line and suddenly Armagh were back in contention, 1-7 to 2-8 at half time.

A long range Oisin O’Neill point pulled Armagh back to within three at the beginning of the second period and substitute Rory Grugan kicked his first after being introduced, to reduce the deficit to just two points.

While Armagh were within touching distance, Tyrone soon landed another crucial blow to ensure their opponents were kept at arm’s length. Sludden once again found himself burrowing through the Armagh defence and this time needed no assistance as he fired to the net to bring his tally to 1-1.

McCurry added to Armagh’s woes, as did Ronan O’Neill and Ronan McHugh to push the Red Hand County eight points clear. Once again Armagh were offered a glimmer of hope when the referee pointed to the spot after Aidan Nugent had been fouled, and up stepped Stefan Campbell, who blasted past the keeper, and Armagh were back in with a shout.

Jason Duffy’s 45th minute score brought the margin back to four but Tyrone kept pressing forward and points from Sludden, Kieran McGeary and Liam Rafferty push some daylight between the teams once again.

Paul Hughes drove over a score for Armagh, which was soon cancelled out by Darren McCurry while Rory Grugan (free) and Conor Turbitt both struck points before Ronan O’Neill restored Tyrone’s five point lead.

With 10 minutes left to play Armagh remained in the contest and a well placed pass from Stefan Campbell found Rory Grugan on the edge of the square. Grugan beautifully floored two Tyrone defenders with the one solo dummy and tucked away his sides third goal to bring it back to a two point game.

Darren McCurry got the margin back to three and it was Grugan once again who lead from the front to bring his side back to within two. McCurry and Tyrone would have the final laugh though, and the corner forward sweetly struck the last point of the game to confirm his sides place in the last four.

Armagh will feel disappointed that they couldn’t reach the semi finals of the competition but have successfully found some new talent in the McKenna Cup. The Orchard followers will hope Conor Turbitt can carry his form into the league while Niall Brady displayed his range of kicking and he will certainly challenge Blaine Hughes for the number one jersey.

Rory Grugan showed his experience and quality after being introduced and with James Morgan, Paddy Burns, Ryan Kennedy and Brendan Donaghy still to come back, Armagh can shore up their defence by the time the league rolls into town. And adding to their attack with star names such as Jamie Clarke and Andrew Murnin, a big push for promotion is on the way.

Armagh Team: Niall Brady, Conor O’Neill, Stephen Sheridan, Aidan Forker, Joe McElroy, Greg McCabe, Caolan McConville, Niall Grimley, Oisin O’Neill (0-2), Mark Shields, Stefan Campbell (1-1), Aidan Nugent, Conor Turbitt (0-4), Rian O’Neill (1-3), Jason Duffy (0-1). Subs: Rory Grugan (1-3) for J. McElroy, Paul Hughes (0-1) for C. McConville, Jarly Og Burns for S. Sheridan, Cathair McGeary for J. Duffy, Callum Cumiskey for A. Nugent.

Tyrone Team: Niall Morgan, Ciaran McLaughlin, Rory Brennan (0-1), Niall Kelly, Michael O’Neill, Michael McKernan, Mattie Murnaghan, Ben McDonnell, Conan Grugan (0-1), Frank Burns (0-1), Niall Sludden (1-2), Kieran McGeary (0-1), Ronan McHugh (0-3), Kyle Coney (0-1), Ronan O’Neill (2-3). Subs: Liam Rafferty (0-1) for M. O’Neill, Conn Kilpatrick for C. Grugan, Darren McCurry (0-4) for Kyle Coney, David Mulgrew for Rory Brennan, Conor Quinn for M. McKernan.