Awesome Clarke inspires Armagh to victory
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Armagh 3-8 Longford 2-9.
IF there was to be a silver lining in Crossmaglen's exit from the All-Ireland Club Championship it is that football fans are going to see a lot more of Jamie Clarke over the next month.
The Crossmaglen talisman was sensational throughout Armagh's victory over Longford in a tense Division Two clash in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night.
Clarke scored 1-2 from play and was involved in almost every other score, and his club-mate Tony Kernan gave Grimley something to think about after coming from the bench to score 1-1, including a 45' under pressure.
It was a hard fought win but with notable improvements with James Lavery and Stephen Harold bossing the midfield, Clarke and Stefan Forker linking up to make a dangerous and exciting attack, Caolan Rafferty running at the defence and Kevin Dyas supplying quality passes.
However, while it is a huge result for Armagh to record their first win in the National League, the real test will be against Derry in Celtic Park on Saturday (March 9) at 7pm.
Armagh, after Longford had scored first, went in front in the sixth minute and stayed in front until the final whistle. They forced the visitors to chase the game but Longford's ability to stay with their host all the way made the first half entertaining and enjoyable and the second half tense and nail biting.
Armagh always looked likely winners from that sixth minute lead as it varied between two and five points up to six minutes to go when Armagh went six up.
Within three minutes Longford had reduced the deficit to a single point and it needed a relieving last minute pointed 45' by Tony Kernan to edge Armagh home.
The difference in the two teams ultimately was Jamie Clarke, scorer of a goal and two points, involved in almost every other Armagh score and in all the things Armagh performed well. His silky skills on the ball, his telling runs, his reading of the game, his support play and score-threatening passes, his superb evasion skills, all displayed and endorsed his footballing genius and the superb football brain he possesses. His first half display was as close to perfection as any player can.
In an error and foul ridden second half where play deteriorated badly, Clarke's play was one ray of excitement that shone through the slogging push for victory by both sides.
Armagh played their better football in the first half with the intricate passing of forward moves penetrative as well as pleasing to the eye - all but one point of their 2-5 came from play.
The intensity and sharpness of their movement and support play was telling yet their play still needed the motivation and orchestration of Clarke to bring other players into the game.
Aaron Kernan, sweeping, and with Brendan Donaghy and Ciaran McKeever all bombing forward Armagh were the team in control, but Longford's give-and-go running game gave the Armagh defence, particularly the full back line a hard pressed time just as Wexford did the week before.
James Donaghy was the steadiest and James Morgan and Declan McKenna tightened matters up when they came on.
Midfielders James Lavery and Stephen Harold edged the battle against their deep-running Longford counterparts, Keegan and Brady.
James Lavery kept his positive aggression from last weekend and his high fielding and support play were telling, while Stephen Harold foraged for possession tirelessly and was a regular get out clause for a pressurised defence.
Armagh, too, proved impotent in that time hitting only two points, both from frees in a period of barren play without scores from both sides which lasted for 17 minutes.
In that period, also, Armagh seemed to have only Clarke up front as starting full-forward Johnny Hanratty played deeper.
Play was laboured and the crisp, penetrative interplay of the first half disappeared.
Dermot Brady at last had Clarke under a degree of control, but Longford overall didn't have the 'killer' punch ability to overturn an Armagh side beginning to wilt.
Brendan Donaghy had been fortunate to avoid a red card for a 'rugby tackle' foul just after the restart and after a strong penalty claim by Longford was not granted, Armagh had the break they needed.
The counter attack saw Clarke feed Brian Mallon for a blocked volley but the rebound ran to Tony Kernan who calmly planted the ball into the net for a six-point lead.
Once again, like the Wexford game, Armagh's substitutions - James Morgan, Brian Mallon and Tony Kernan - were telling and effective.
After Longford opened the scoring in the first minute Kevin Dyas delivered a precise pass to Clarke who eluded two defenders with ease to stride forward to place into the net.
Two minutes later, a clever Clarke pass inside allowed Stefan Forker to pick his spot for Armagh's second goal.
Francie Magee out-jumped Stephen Finnegan to rattle in a goal for Longford.
Armagh responded on the break and as Clarke teased three defenders before laying off to Forker for an excellent point
Two exquisite long-range points, with Clarke heavily involved in both, arrived from Dyas.
In between and just after McCormack landed a brace of visiting points but in another penetrative attack Forker pointed a free after, Clarke was fouled.
A delightful move via Kevin Dyas, and Ciaran McKeever ended with Clarke eluding two defenders to stroke over the point.
The five minutes before the interval saw Longford raise their game again and two McCormack points (one free and one excellent long range) maintained the visiting closeness in contention despite being second best first half and only 2-5 to 1-5 down.
Two minutes into the restart, Brendan Donaghy hauled down Davy Barden heading one-on-one for goal. Surprisingl Donaghy received only a yellow and Longford had to settle for a point from McCormack's free.
At the other end, Aaron Kernan pointed a trademark free and that was the last score from any side for almost 20 minutes. Brian Mallon won a free heading nowhere and Aaron Kernan converted.
Suddenly the game sprang back in to life in two attacks.
At one end McCormack thought he had won a stonewall penalty for Longford.
Armagh broke with Clarke to allow Brian Mallon a shot which was blocked but the rebound fell to Tony Kernan who lashed the ball into the net.
Longford tagged on a couple of points then McGee's fisted effort was steered into Armagh's net by defender Declan McKenna, leaving only a point between the sides with a minute to go.
It was tense for the large Armagh crowd, but Tony Kernan's converted 45s allayed the worse fears and the Orchard County are off the mark.
ARMAGH: Philip McEvoy, Gary McCooey, James Donnelly, Stephen Finnegan, Aaron Kernan (0-2, frees), Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever, James Lavery, Stephen Harold, Kevin Dyas (0-2), Stefan Campbell, Caolan Rafferty, Jamie Clarke (1-2), Stefan Forker (1-2, 2 frees) and Johnny Hanratty.
Subs used: James Morgan for Finnegan, Declan McKenna for McCooey, Brian Mallon, Tony Kernan (1-1)
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan, Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Peter Foy, Michael Quinn, Kevin Diffley, Shane Mulligan, John Keegan, Michael Brady, Bernard McElvanney, Donal McElligott, Aiden Rowan, Francis Magee (2-2), Paul Barden and Sean McCormick (0-7, 5 frees).
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