Life begins at 40 for Orchard
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
IN a game where Armagh needed an uplifting win, they certainly rose to the occasion with this very, very emphatic win over an Offaly side who were reactive throughout rather than proactive, writes John Morrison.
As a result, they offered very little threat throughout and with a fast and furious start, Armagh had this game virtually wrapped up by the seventh minute when they led 1-7 to no score.
The quality of Armagh's performance, despite the lesser quality of their opponent, was that out of 6-22 scored, all but four points came from open play.
Armagh filled their boots with scores from start to finish. They did lapse towards the end of the opening quarter in each half, allowing Offaly the brief luxury of thinking they could play themselves back into contention. It was not to be as Offaly, who have flitted between Divisions Three and Four (mostly Division Four) since 1998, simply had no discernible plan and their 'off the cuff' football was too easy to read and exploit.
Armagh will understand that for the rest of the season their games will be much more difficult but the exercise did allow the team to express themselves and 'feel' confident about the way they played and in interacted and as soon as possible they will be aiming to play with such sustained quality against the higher status teams to come, both league and championship in the months and years ahead.
Armagh hit 6-22 from play, four points from frees, shot three wides in total and never relented their high pressing from start to finish. We should never underestimate experience and Armagh certainly had that 'learning' experience on Sunday. It's in their memory bank - the challenge now is to repeat it game after game until opponents are saying, 'we know how Armagh play but we can't stop them'.
The return of Brendan Donaghy and later Ciaran McKeever and their experience and maturity certainly helped to encourage their younger team-mates to give their best.
Rory Grugan was again imperious in all he did and he's playing the best football of his career. Rory is developing a telepathic relationship with Stefan Campbell, Andrew Murnin and Jamie Clarke and the link play between the four is a treat to watch as well as generating and delivering many scores.
In this game the quartet named posted 3-11 of Armagh's total scores. Andrew Murnin's return has been a tremendous boost to Armagh's play and Jamie Clarke is beginning to show his worth while slowly developing a team ethic to his game.
Stefan is simply carrying on from what he was last season - end to end, incisive runs, visionary passes, tireless worker and potent scorer.
Anto Duffy, out for some time until recently, is slowly beginning to show what he is capable of. Anto is a shrewd and effective reader of the game, both in creating for himself and others as well as making deceptive runs for the benefit of team-mates to gain easier possession. Anto is at last chipping in those vital one or two scores which the best clever play-makers can deliver. An excellent team player, hopefully Anto will stay the course.
Niall Grimley, a hugely promising talent, gets better year on year with Sunday's being possibly his best game to date in an Armagh jersey.
Stephen Sheridan at midfield gets better with every game and when Ben Crealey came on to partner him, the pairing looked like a viable and potent unit for the future.
Charlie Vernon at full back and regularly on sorties up field had another storming game and he certainly inspires confidence in the young defenders around him. As the season gathers pace, Armagh's bench is beginning to look a lot more creditable in both depth and quality.
Armagh made an explosive entrance into this game with Stephen Sheridan fielding the throw-in before soloing deep into Offaly's half for a stroked over opening score in just 12 seconds. That blistering start continued with a score a minute rapidity until the seventh minute.
Points following the opener came from Stefan Campbell, Charlie Vernon, Anto Duffy, and Rory Grugan had Armagh five up in four minutes. Niall Grimley immediately turned over the kick-out and fed Niall Rowland for a well placed volleyed goal.
Armagh were cruising now as Andrew Murnin pointed from a narrow angle, seven scores in seven minutes from seven different players (almost half the team) and all from open play meant, not suggested, that there was only going to be one winner in this game - the hosts.
A moment later Stefan Campbell landed Armagh's first point from a free. Was their rhythm breaking up? It seemed so, as Offaly went from earlier in the half looking as though they were a team with nothing to offer to one who were now tackling in earnest, stringing passes together and able to go forward with intent. As a result, it was no surprise that inside six minutes, they had hit four points without replay via David Hanlon, Graham Guilfoyle and Bernard Allen (2).
Armagh were determined not to be overhauled and by the interval they outscored Offaly by 2-4 to 0-2 with Armagh already looking out of sight on an interval score of 3-11 to 0-6.
An accurate Charlie Vernon pass, a brilliant Andrew Murnin catch and pass saw Stefan Campbell blast to the net. Points followed from Niall Grimley and Andrew Murnin before Eoin Carroll pulled one back for Offaly.
A Charlie Vernon pass started a move which ended with a Jamie Clarke point. From the kick-out, turned over by Armagh, Niall Grimley fired a vicious volley to the roof of the net from the edge of the big square.
Nigel Dunne pointed an Offaly score from a free but Stefan Campbell closed the half with an outrageously superb point from out near the sideline.
The second half was barely a minute old then Rory Grugan converted a free. There would be no lapse in this game. Niall Grimley's fine solo won a free for Stefan Campbell to convert. Shortly after a Rory Grugan high ball to the square saw the ball break from a jumping clutch of players for Andrew Murnin to stab to the net. When Ben Crealey's long ball freed up Jamie Clarke for a second point, Armagh were 20 points ahead.
In a swift breakaway attack, Graham Guilfoyle's volley rattled an Armagh post. The rebound began a pitch length move, which ended with Stefan Campbell and Andrew Murnin to work the cross for Rory Grugan to fist to the net.
One minute later, substitute Gavin McParland landed a point, with his first touch, followed soon after by a long range point from Niall Grimley.
Armagh were now 25 points up. They took a breather allowing Nigel Dunne to land a brace of points (one helped over by Armagh 'keeper, Blaine Hughes).
By this time, there were still 20 minutes left but Armagh refused to let up. By the final whistle (including five minutes extra time), Armagh continued to attack, outscoring Offaly by 1-6 to 0-2.
Niall Grimley (solo) and Rory Grugan (free) points paved the way for Ciaran McKeever and Gavin McParland to release Anto Duffy for a well-placed goal.
Oisin MacIomhair and Ben Crealey exchanged with Eoin Carroll and Nigel Dunne as the clock ran into injury time.
The referee insisted on five minutes of injury time (pointless gesture for this game) allowing Stephen Sheridan and Ben Crealey, both marauding from midfield, to hit two more Armagh points.
Most were relieved to hear the final whistle. It was time to savour the result and move on. The games ahead are what the Kieran McGeeney's men look to now. Armagh have played themselves back into a promotion challenging position.
How they play in the final three games will determine their fate. Rather than wallow in the Offaly result is pointless - the future is ahead beginning with an always tricky game against table-toppers, Louth, in Drogheda on Sunday (March 12).
ARMAGH: B Hughes, M Shields, C Vernon (0-1), P Hughes, N Rowland (1-0), B Donaghy, A McKay, S Sheridan (0-2), A Findon, R Grugan (1-3, 0-2 frees), A Duffy (1-1), N Grimley (1-3), J Clarke (0-2), S Campbell (1-4, 0-2 frees), A Murnin (1-2).
Substitutes: B Crealey (0-2) for Findon (ht), G McParland (0-1) for Campbell (46), G McCabe for Shields (50), C McKeever for Murnin (56), A Forker for Grugan (59), O Maciomhair (0-1) for Clarke (63).
Yellow card: Clarke (43).
OFFALY: K Garry, N Darby, J Lawlor, S Pender, C Donoghue, E Rigney, D Hanlon (0-1), E Carroll (0-2), C McNamee, G Guilfoyle (0-1), P Cunningham, M Brazil, S Doyle, N Dunne (0-4, 0-2 frees), B Allen (0-2).
Substitutes: J O'Connor for Donoghue (25), J Walsh for Brazil (46), S Nally for Darby (51), J Gethings for Cunningham (51), N Bracken for McNamee (53), D Carroll for Rigney (66).
Yellow cards: Guilfoyle (38), Carroll (59).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).
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