Sports

Armagh display pride

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Louth 0-16. Armagh 1-13.

SATURDAY, February 1 was the feast day of St Brigid and on Sunday, February 2 it seemed that for three quarters of this National League Division Two opener with Louth that Armagh were carrying a cross from the burden of recent poor results.
During that time they lacked confidence, were guilty of many errors and subject to a litany of turn-overs. They were indeed not playing well but Louth were not dominating. Instead the hosts were picking off easy points via Armagh's mistakes and the Wee County did not create a viable goal chance.
Come the final quarter, however, I'm sure prayers off the field were answered, but on the field an inspiring and heady mix of pride, character, passion, determination and commitment to themselves and their cause produced a remarkable and confidence building comeback which secured a priceless draw and almost plundered a stunning victory.
Armagh's inexperienced youngsters grew up in this game to earn their county spurs and together with a raft of shrewd substitutions bedded in a purpose building injection of county standard confidence.
As in the past, Armagh in the face of adversity delivered.
Both sides were seriously depleted to start with but Louth's formation had a far greater battle hardened complexion to their CV and past experience than Armagh's younger recruits. By the end of the game, promise had become potential and Armagh will face Down this Friday with a confident purpose.
After Tony Kernan opened the scoring when he collected a Jamie Clarke free off a post on three minutes, Louth established a two point lead by five minutes later via Donnelly and Declan Byrne (2, 1 free).
Louth continued to prosper on Armagh's loose passes and turnover mistakes even though the hosts had a clearer game plan of support play and be ahead of the pass co-ordinated movement.
By 22 minutes, Louth were in a four point lead of 7-3 after scores from Maguire and Judge (free) and later O'Connor and Maguire were split by two converted frees by Ethan Rafferty.
Paddy Keenan was totally dominating midfield while Judge, Byrne and O'Connor were causing havoc up front and by the interval Keenan (2) and Byrne had established a six point lead of 10-4 with Stefan Campbell shooting Armagh's fourth at the second attempt.
Ciaron Mac Iomhair, Aiden Forker and Stephen Harold had recently entered the fray as subs and immediately began to positively influence Armagh's play. In one sweeping and electrifying move, Stephen Harold was left one-on-one with the goalkeeper but he shot weakly at the 'keeper when a goal chance was on. The game now seemed gone for Armagh.
Ten minutes after the restart, Louth were steadily going up the 'two times tables' with, now, an 'eight point' lead via Donnelly, Judge (free) and Keenan with Stefan Campbell, showing enterprise throughout, hitting one for the Orchard. Judge made it a nine point lead, 14-5, just before Mark Shiels' shot rebounded off the bar. This miss, however, ignited a purple patch for Armagh.
Jamie Clarke was fouled, Tony Kernan found Ciaran McKeever with a short free and Ciaran duly converted long range high off an upright. Rory Grugan and Jamie Clarke quickly added points and Armagh looked set for take-off. When Tony Kernan missed a 45', the team momentum stalled to allow Keenan and Judge to restore that eight point lead.
Where would Louth stop? At an eight, 10 or 12 or more winning lead? After all they had gone two, four, then six, then eight, ahead. By now Louth had substituted five of their six starting forwards. If they were thinking they had won with 13 minutes left (plus four minutes injury time which was played), their belief and replacements back-fired.
Louth would not score again in those last 17 minutes of play.
Stefan Forker came on for Robbie Tasker and the tables turned decidedly in Armagh's favour.
First Jamie Clarke landed a brace to take two points off the lead.
Aidan Forker was stretchered off after a lengthy injury break and the momentum really swung to Armagh when play resumed.
After a good build up, Stefan Campbell's volley was parried loose but Stefan Forker following up reacted quickest for a tap in goal.
Tony Kernan landed the first of two pressure frees and Armagh had reduced the lead by another four points. The lead was now down to two and Armagh's relentless pressure was causing Louth to panic.
In injury time Stefan Campbell hit a great solo point before Tony Kernan landed another pressure free-kick to equalise.
The eight point lead had been closed, the tables had been turned. Still in injury, Armagh had the opportunity to plunder a winner but Oisin Maciomhair's angled shot from 30-metres went just wide on the whistle.
Armagh were delighted and proud on the final whistle. They had salvaged so much in that last 25 minutes of excellent football that saw them claw back an eight point lead for a precious point.
In that time, they had won dirty ball, delivered advantage ball, tackled well and give each other quality support play to hit 1-5 without reply.
Stefan Campbell was Armagh's best player on the day throughout and was especially so when moved to full-forward where he played the target man to perfection.
Andy Mallon and Mark Shields had excellent games in a commendable defence.
Charlie Vernon and Michael Murray also produced sound performances. Rory Grugan came into his own as a passing playmaker in those last 25 minutes while Ethan Rafferty was a constant source of annoyance to a dominant Louth midfield and when Ethan was joined by Stephen Harold, together they won back the middle for Armagh. Ciaran McKeever and Aidan Forker turned in steady yet influential performances once they came on.
Jamie Clarke, sometimes treble marked, sometimes over-carried and sometimes had too much expected of him but he still in those 25 minutes was the spark who underpinned Armagh's revival.
A battling performance, a precious point won, a deserved draw earned and a lot of confidence gained is how Armagh will look back on this game.
Armagh: P McEvoy, P Hughes, C Vernon, M Shiels, A Mallon, R Grugan (0-1), J Lavery, E Rafferty (0-2), S Campbell (0-3), J Hanratty, R Tasker, J Clarke (0-3), T Kernan (0-3) and K Carragher. Subs: C McKeever (0-1), A Forker, O Maciomhair, S Harold, B Mallon and S Forker (1-0).
Louth: S McCoy, P Rath, P Reilly, G O'Hare, J O'Brien, D Finnegan, L Shevlin, P Keenan (0-4), B Donnelly (0-2), A Reid, C Judge (0-4), D Byrne (0-3), A McDonnell, E O'Connor (0-1) and D Maguire (0-2).

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