Did penalty decisions put Armagh down?
Tuesday, 8 April 2014
ARMAGH will play their National League football next year in Division Three after losing to Donegal at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
But after the match most of the talk wasn't about the players - but about the performance of referee Fergal Kelly.
The official gave Donegal a soft spot-kick in the opening half but later denied the Orchard county two seemingly stonewall decisions. The first came on 28 minutes when Armagh were trailing by a single point and Stephen Campbell was brought down.
While the second came just before the hour mark with the same player halted, seemingly illegally, as he cut in from the left flank. At that stage a goal would have been an enormous boost to the home side as then Armagh were trailing by five points.
Orchard manager Paul Grimley was incensed by the performance of the Longfort official and after first refusing to talk about Kelly, then said: "Sky Sports wouldn't be long doing a runner with refereeing like that."
The manager continued: "You have to make the game attractive to watch and you have to see fair play for both teams. We didn't see that today."
The Armagh team sheet bore little resemblance to the one printed in the programme with Charlie Vernon, Aaron Kernan, Stephen Campbell, Finian Moriarty and Gary McCooey drafted into the team that took the field.
But initially the changes didn't seem to work as in the opening five minutes Donegal racked up four points, two from Colm McFadden and Rory Kavanagh with Armagh chasing shadows.
But once Crossmaglen's Kyle Carragher pulled one back for the home side, the game evened out. Aaron Kernan, making his first start of the season and looking in good shape, knocked over another Armagh point on seven minutes.
But on 15 minutes came Kelly's first questionable decision, a Donegal spot-kick when he ruled that Finian Moriarty brought down McFadden. And from the resulting spot-kick the big Tir Chonaill skipper Michael Murphy blasted into the bottom corner, although keeper Philip McEvoy almost got a hand to his bullet drive.
Yet minutes later Armagh fought back with a goal of their own. Kevin Dyas set up Orchard skipper Jamie Clarke who, despite lots of pressure, toe-poked low into the Donegal net. And when Campbell scored for the home team on 19 minutes there was just a point between the sides.
Armagh were looking the business at this stage with Clarke then setting up Campbell who thought he had netted but the Donegal keeper Paul Durcan made a fine save to deny the Clann na Gael man.
On 28 minutes came another of Kelly's dicey decisions when it looked as though Campbell was fouled. But the referee took no notice.
A McFadden free put two points between the teams at the break.
Tony Kernan reduced the Donegal lead to one point on 37 minutes but a minute later came the beginning of the end for Armagh when full forward Murphy latched onto a long Kavanagh punt to rifle the ball high into the net.
That goal put the visitors four points in front with thereafter Armagh chasing the game - and their hopes of staying in Division Two.
Kernan knocked over another couple of dead-ball kicks with Gary McCooey and substitute Robbie Tasker also getting on the scoresheet for Armagh but Donegal eased into a Division Two Final with two points apiece from Patrick McBrearty and Colm McFadden.
Yet Armagh will argue that those three contentious Fergal Kelly penalty decisions are the reason they will playing Division Three football next season.
And indeed when asked would those decisions have been the difference of five points, Paul Grimley answered emphatically: "Absolutely."
Armagh: P McEvoy, M Murray, C Vernon, F Moriarty, G McCooey, A Kernan, A Mallon, K Toner, S Harold, K Carragher, K Dyas, E McVerry, J Clarke, T Kernan and S Campbell with subs: A Findon (for A Kernan: 49 minutes), E Rafferty (for Dyas: 52 minutes), R Grugan (for McCooey: 54 minutes) and R Tasker (for Clarke: 47 minutes).
Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee, K Lacy, A Thompson, L McLoone, F McGlynn, R Kavanagh, N Gallagher, O MacNiallais, M McElhinney, C Toye, C McFadden, M Murphy and D Malloy with subs: P McBrearty, D Walsh, R McHugh, H McFadden and D Walsh.
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