Armagh 2-16 Clare 1-15
The scorching weather made for one of those unforgettable summer days in the Athletic Grounds, and Armagh’s last surge to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat will live long in the memory of the Orchard County followers.
Joe McElroy’s late contribution, with his first ever Championship goal, sent Clare crashing out of the 2018 Championship in the most heartbreaking fashion.
69 minutes into the game, the visiting side had one foot in the next round, ahead by five points, having led for the entire second half.
But several scores in the final moments of the game allowed Armagh to steal an unexpected victory, outscoring the opposition 1-4 to 0-0 in the last six minutes.
The home side dominated the opening exchanges, taking a 0-4 to 0-1 lead. Rory Grugan led the charge early on with three points in as many minutes but it was his movement and effort at full forward that worried the Clare defence.
The away side did settle and soon got on top, with each member of the full forward line opening their accounts to put their side in front.
Both teams were equally matched and played out some enjoyable football. Blaine Hughes ensured his side didn’t fall behind with a spectacular save on the 32nd minute before Clare pushed on to take the half time lead.
Points from Eoin Cleary and Jamie Malone saw the Banner men go in front 0-9 to 0-7 at the break, with five of the starting six forwards registering at least one score in the first half.
Charlie Vernon reduced the margin to a single point with an early score, but Clare continued their momentum from the first 35 minutes and pushed on once again.
Scores from Pearse Lillis, Cleary, David Tubridy and Cathal O’Connor saw Clare stretch their advantage to five, with Armagh creating chances but struggling to make the most of their opportunities.
Niall Grimley grabbed his sides first score in 17 minutes with a pointed free and Armagh fought hard to keep in the contest.
Aidan Forker, who worked tirelessly throughout, sent his marker flying with a strong, jinky, run up the left wing.
Forker sent the ball across the square to full forward Andrew Murnin. The St Paul’s man quickly turned and buried the ball to the back of the next to bring his side back into the game, Clare ahead by the minimum of margins, 0-13 to 1-9.
Once again Clare were unaffected by Armagh’s efforts to remain in the contest, and were well ahead in a matter of minutes, reacting perfectly to Murnin’s three-pointer.
Three points on the trot allowed Clare to race back into a four point lead with ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Rory Grugan added on with two quick fire scores to offer a glimmer of hope to the home side, reducing the gap to two points.
The hope was soon shattered into bits as David Tubridy looked to claim the hero title, firing home a rebounded penalty as Hughes saved the original effort.
Seven minutes were added on as additional time and Armagh used ever second they had to keep themselves in the Championship.
Niall Grimley brought the margin back to four with a pointed free before Armagh’s super sub made his telling contribution.
Andrew Murnin gained possession and shipped the ball to the on running McElroy who burst passed the Clare rear-guard to smash the ball to the net with a brilliant effort.
Grugan brought his personal tally to six points with the levelling score before Gavin McParland fisted over his first score after being introduced.
McParland’s score handed Armagh the lead for the first time since the 14th minute and Ross McQuillan made sure of the victory with the final score of the game.
Armagh’s late blitz will stand out as one of the high points of the McGeeney era and his sides fighting spirit and never say die attitude would have pleased the manager more so than the victory itself.
Armagh: 1. Blaine Hughes, 2. Paddy Burns, 3. Aaron McKay, 4. Greg McCabe, 5. Mark Shields, 6. Brendan Donaghy, 7. Aidan Forker (0-1), 8. Charlie Vernon (0-1), 9. Connaire Mackin, 10. Rory Grugan (0-6 2f), 11. Jemar Hall, 12. Niall Grimley (0-4 4f), 13. Ryan McShane (0-1), 14. Andrew Murnin (1-1), 15. Stephen Sheridan. Subs: 19. Niall Rowland for C. Mackin 26. Ryan Owens for A. McKay 25. Ross McQuillan (0-1) for J. Hall 18. Joe McElroy (1-0) for S. Sheridan 21. Gavin McParland (0-1) for R. McShane 20. Jason Duffy for M. Shields.
Clare: 1. Robert Eyres, 2. Gordan Kelly, 3. Cillian Brennan, 4. Eoghan Collins, 5. Cian O’Dea, 6. Aaron Fitzgerald, 7. Pearse Lillis (0-2), 8. Gary Brennan, 9. Cathal O’Connor (0-1), 10 Ciaran Malone, 11. Eoin Cleary (0-3), 12. Jamie Malone (0-3), 13. Eimhin Courtney (0-2), 14. Keelan Sexton (0-1), 15. David Tubridy (1-3). Subs: Kevin Harnett for E. Collins, 16. Killian Roche for R. Eyres, Conal OhAinifein for C. O’Dea, Gearoid O’Brien for A. Fitzgerald, Gavin Cooney for K. Sexton.