Orchard hold on after sizzling start

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Orchard hold on after sizzling start thumbnailA FRANTIC Armagh goalmouth in the closing stages of the Armagh Longford game. Photograph: Columba O'Hare.

ARMAGH entered this game under the dark cloud of threatening relegation but despite the main stand being closed and the field leafy, wet and slippery, good fortune prevailed and by the final whistle Armagh found themselves on the cusp of possible promotion.

Longford ...3-9
Armagh ...3-11

It was a game in which Armagh led from start to finish, were never level as well as being deserving winners and yet they still trod a dangerous path, including the spectre of another stuttering, unrewarded finish as the first two games produced.

Ultimately, their fledgling character began to emerge in the form of a strong show of resilience and victory was Armagh's to savour.

They began the game with four changes to their programme listed starting team as in came debutant, U-21 'keeper Blaine Hughes (Carrickcruppin), Aaron Findon and Jamie Clarke and Andrew Murnin to midfield and the corner forward spots respectively.

Already the team read stronger and so it proved to be.

It was, however, a game of contrasts which saw Armagh lay claim to victory in the first 30 minutes only to look likely to lose it in the final 10 minutes (which included five minutes of injury time).

In the first 30 dominant minutes they outscored Longford by 2-7 to 0-2.

In the last minutes, Longford outscored them 1-2 to 0-1. In between it was Armagh protecting a healthy lead against a ravenous, chasing, Longford who outscored them by 3-7 to 1-4 either side of the interval. By the end, however, there was huge relief in the Armagh ranks that they had secured victory by two points after having led by 11 and by nine just before and after the interval.

Rory Grugan and Brendan Donaghy had outstanding games with Stephen Sheridan, Oisin O'Neill and Stefan Campbell performing excellently for most of the game.

Andrew Murnin showed glimpses (quite a few) of his undoubted talent.

Ciaran McKeever came on at a crucial late period in the game and helped steer the Armagh ship to victory. Three times, acting as sweeper, he intercepted telling balls forward and two of those led to a brace of Armagh scores. In the dying embers of the game, amidst a clutch of players, he fielded and held firmly a ball in which had it gone loose might have seen disastrous consequences for Armagh.

Armagh had the advantage of a strong wind at their backs in the first half and they certainly used it to good effect. In a most dominant opening quarter, Armagh established a lead which would be difficult to chase down.

Rory Grugan's early one/two with Brendan Donaghy brought the first score.

Soon after, a long probing ball found Andrew Murnin whose shot on the turn doubled Armagh's lead. Andrew then became the provider for Armagh to land their third point.

Armagh's first major boost followed soon after with Aaron Findon's probing pass finding Jamie Clarke for an exquisite tap to the net. Soon after, Brendan Donaghy was fouled on the overlap and Rory Grugan's resultant conversion put Armagh seven up and coasting.

Longford temporarily interrupted the cruise'with a brace of fine Robbie Smyth points (one from an awkward sideline free). Cruise control was resumed in the space of two minutes as Andrew Murnin placed Stefan Campbell for a point.

Things got better soon after as Andrew Murnin's looping pass was fielded, dropped and then deftly slotted to the net by the quick thinking Oisin O'Neill. Moments later, Oisin landed another point thus endorsing the talent he is developing into.

An excellent sweeping move involving five players saw Andrew Murnin pass inside to the in-rushing Stefan Campbell. It looked as if Stefan was in line to simply palm the ball to the net. Instead, he fielded the ball to kick it over the bar.

It was just moments from the interval and Armagh looked decidedly set for victory at 11 points ahead. In the final two minutes before the half-time whistle, Longford dared to come forward as Armagh's intensity of play waned.

A snap Liam Connerton goal followed by Dermot Brady and Robbie Smyth points in quick succession had reduced the deficit to six and left Armagh somewhat shaken as they went in at the interval at 2-7 to 1-4 ahead.

Armagh re-emerged after the break looking as if they wanted to retake control, endorsed by a Stefan Campbell goal. Andrew Murnin had fed Oisin O'Neill and his volley was parried into the path of Stefan who drove the ball to the corner of the net.

Nine up Armagh but the wind now backed Longford. They began to annoy Armagh and produced good points via Michael Quinn and a Robbie Smyth free. A period of scoreless stalemate ensued to be then broken by a well worked Armagh free-kick which ended with Jamie Clarke finding a relieving point for an eight point lead.

Soon after a great save by Blaine Hughes produced a Longford point from Liam Connerton and from the kick-out disaster struck. Longford gained possession to leave Liam Connerton again on the ball. His mis-hit low shot somewhat found its way between Blaine Hughes's legs to end up in the net. The deficit was now cut to four and initiated a once again nervy 10 minutes to go for Armagh - shades of both the Sligo and Laois games.

Could it happen again? For a time it didn't look likely as Stefan Campbell landed two excellent frees. Six up with five to go with the added bonus of Dermot Brady just then receiving a second yellow and Longford were down to 14 men.

This action seemed to stir Longford as a Longford attack brought a brilliant save out of Blaine Hughes. Padraig McCormack pointed the resultant '45' to keep Longford in contention.

Disaster suddenly struck again as another defensive mix-up brought an easy goal for James McGivney and Longford. Back came Longford in the final minute of normal time and Liam Connerton's point left just two points in it, a situation ripe for Longford to steal a win with a late goal.

Five minutes of injury time were flagged up and the game was certainly wide open. In those agonizing minutes, it was Armagh, this time, who held their nerve better and with Rory Grugan pointing a late free, the Orchard secured a deserved two point victory.

Armagh's position in the table is now a favourable one. They lie currently third in the table behind Louth and Tipperary and are due to meet both in a league run in of four games, three at home and one away. Their fate is in their own hands, so let's hope Armagh can rise to the task.


LONGFORD: P Collum, D Brady (0-1), B Gilleran, C Farrelly, D McElligot, P McCormack, M Quinn (0-2, 0-1 '45'), B O'Farrell, J Keegan, D Mimnagh, J McGivney (1-0), B McKeon (0-1), R Smyth (0-4, 0-2 frees), L Connerton (1-0), S McCormack.

Subs: B Farrell for Mimnagh (h-t), L Hughes for Farrelly (64).

Black card: McElligot (53) replaced by L Moran (1-0), Smyth (55) replaced by D Masterson (0-1), Moran (70) replaced by R McEntire.


ARMAGH: B Hughes, M Shields, C Vernon, P Hughes, B Donaghy, N Rowland, A McKay, S Sheridan, A Findon, R Grugan (0-3, 0-2 frees), O O'Neill (1-1), N Grimley, A Murnin (0-2), S Campbell (1-4, 0-2 frees), J Clarke (1-1, 0-1 free).

Subs: G McCabe for Rowland (h-t), B Crealey for Grimley (48), C White for Murnin (56), C McKeever for O'Neill (66).

Referee: J Molloy (Galway).


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