Armagh get job done to stay in hunt

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Armagh get job done to stay in hunt thumbnailARMAGH'S James Morgan in action. PMG1306


IN a game, which began quietly and stayed mediocre throughout, the end certainly was an explosive one with three players sent off plus a penalty brilliantly saved.
Armagh just about deserved to win but their wasteful shooting was in stark contrast to an Antrim team which had no potency in its forward line with CJ McGourty landing eight pointed frees and one from play.
Armagh, maybe, were not complacent in this game but for over three quarters of the game, they appeared to be taking a winning result for granted. The drive, spark and blistering attacks of their last few games were replaced by a slow, ponderous build-up of soloing, short passing, mistimed and misdirected passes and a chronic wastefulness in front of goals, 15 wides and six dropped short shots on the night.
Antrim's defensive set-up was the first this season that they found very difficult to penetrate, especially first half but they added to their inability to do so by their slow, ponderous, cross-field build-up. In short, Armagh had the forwards to win the game easily but their wastefulness meant they weren't able to.
On the other hand, Antrim had a forward line almost incapable of brokering scores, especially from play, yet had the penalty been converted they possibly could have stolen a win.
Instead of a blistering burst of scores from the start, it was Antrim who started the game better and with a degree of pacy menace established a lead from CJ McGourty on five minutes.
Armagh early play was scrappy but eventually after nine minutes Rory Grugan's pass was beautifully angled over by Niall Grimley.
It was Antrim, not Armagh, who pushed on from then and by the 12th minute they were 3-1 up.
Brendan Bradley's shot was pushed out by 'keeper Blaine Hughes but CJ McGourty pointed the resultant '45'. Almost immediately, Paddy McBride dummy around two defenders plus a 40-metre solo led to a majestic point.
Moments later, Armagh delivered as Rory Grugan to Aaron McKay for a switch pass to Stefan Campbell whose deft and unselfish cross saw Kieran McKeever (the bear in the square) palm to the net. Soon after, Blaine Hughes in Armagh's goal made an excellent high catch under pressure but Antrim's rearguard wing backs of McBride and McAteer menacing kept bombing forwards.
Conor Murray won a free and CJ long range converted.
Armagh's first time lead had been hauled back and for most of the rest of the game they worryingly couldn't hold on to any lead they gained for any sustained period. A superb Kieran McKeever turn over tackle produced a pass to Gavin McParland who gave Armagh back the lead.
CJ McGourty replied with his only point from play as Rory Grugan's dropped short shot flagged up Armagh's third dropped short shot and nine wides after 30 game minutes.
Almost immediately, good Antrim recycling saw Paddy McBride, long range, give the 'Saffrons' the lead once more.
As half-time approached a fine four man move saw Kieran McKeever angled over another equaliser. Stephen Sheridan shot wide as the teams went in level at 1-3 to 0-6 but Armagh needed to reflect on a half which saw them produce 11 'bad' wides and four dropped short shots, largely because Armagh's play had been dominated by individual soloing rather than team play while Antrim had used a give the ball before hit approach based on teamwork.
It looked as if Armagh had positively reflected on their play as Rory Grugan and Kieran McKeever set up Aaron McKay for a point 48 seconds after the restart of the second half.
The first half pattern, however, of Armagh's unable to hold a lead continued as soon after CJ McGourty equalized via a free.
In a recycled move lasting almost two minutes, Kieran McKeever was able to release Rory Grugan for a 'lead-taking' point. And yes, a wide and a dropped shot saw Armagh's lead hauled back again by Paddy McBride solo setting up a Conor Murray lead point.
Like a ping pong game of swapped scores, Armagh went in front again with Ciaran O'Hanlon's solo setting up Gavin McParland's long ranger, lead-taker. It took five minutes for Antrim to equalize, again through CJ McGourty (40m free).
In a matter of three minutes, Charlie Vernon sparked Armagh into a cameo of their true potential and form to-date.
First, from a James Morgan overlap pass and then, from an Aidan Forker and Rory Grugan build up, Charlie hit over two superb 'not afraid to shoot to score' long range points for their first 'back-to-back' points in the game for a two point lead.
Armagh would not be level or behind again in the game. Crucially, perhaps a turning point between Charlie's brace of points, CJ McGourty's dropped short free was the first miss he had but more importantly the miss allowed Armagh to hold a lead and build on it. That lead soon became five points as points from Aidan Forker, Jamie Clarke and Anto Duffy stroked over scores.
A run of five points in a row suggested Armagh were about to close this game out easily.
With 15 minutes left, Antrim had other ideas even though Armagh had just earlier pressed high, went forward in waves and delivered passes early and were looking like a team transformed. Antrim response was another converted 'CJ' free and when an Anto Duffy pass was intercepted, a quick move saw Conor Murray fouled bearing down on goal. A penalty was awarded. CJ McGourty's penalty kick was low, well directed and heading for the corner of the net. Unfortunately for CJ and Antrim, the shot hadn't the power to beat Blaine Hughes' full length dive. An excellent save brought Antrim only a '45' which 'keeper Chris Kerr sent wide.
Another turning point, Armagh's fortunes were surviving EVEN as 'CJ' landed another recycled point. Armagh's lead was now just two and catchable.
Suddenly the game exploded. Aidan Forker was black carded, as was Aaron Findon soon after. With the game in turmoil, Stephen Sheridan angled a point but attritional encounters boiled over just after Conor Murray (Antrim) was red carded, as then was Stephen Sheridan. Further friction ensued and Stephen Beatty (Antrim) saw red while team mate Declan Lynch was given a black card. '14 v 13' was now the game numerical. Five minutes injury time were flagged up as play became bogged down in the middle. Eight minutes into injury time a high ball to the Armagh 20 metre zone produced a foul for Antrim.
CJ McGourty, to salvage anything from the game for his team, realized he had to try to engineer a goal to do so. His fierce drop-kick volley rose towards the roof of the net but a raft of Armagh hands hustled his shot over the bar.
The final whistle sounded on the kick-out and Armagh edged home having been pushed all the way by a gutsy, dogged Antrim.
In hindsight, their manner of victory was a huge wake-up call for Armagh to have themselves ready for the Tipperary game this Sunday, where a win is the only result that will guarantee automatic promotion without favours from other teams.
Charlie Vernon was a superb choice as Man of the Match with his inspiring efforts both in defence and attack.
Ciaran McKeever made another immense contribution in Armagh's victory through scoring, setting up scores and generally keeping Antrim defence on their toes.
Armagh's goalkeeper had an excellent game. Blaine dealt very well with a few high balls under pressure. His kick-outs were excellent bar one and his excellent penalty save went a long way to ensuring a victory for Armagh. Blaine is settling steadily into the rhythm of the game.
Armagh's league fate is entirely in their own hands, with the game with Antrim summarized in a well used sporting phrase - a win's a win.
ARMAGH: B Hughes, J Morgan, C Vernon (0-2), P Hughes, N Rowland, B Donaghy, A McKay (1-0), S Sheridan, B Crealey, N Grimley (0-2), C McKeever (1-1), R Grugan (0-2), G McParland (0-2), S Campbell (0-1), J Clarke (0-1).
Subs: A Forker (0-1) for Crealey (33), C O'Hanlon for Grimley (42), A Duffy (0-1) for Campbell (52), S Heffron for Rowland (65).
Yellow card: Morgan (8), P Hughes (73). Black card: Forker (67). Red card: Sheridan (64).
ANTRIM: C Kerr, C Hamill, P Gallagher, P Healy, P McBride (0-2), D Lynch, P McAleer, J Dowling, S Beatty, K Niblock, R McCann, M Fitzpatrick, CJ McGourty (0-7, 6f, 1 '45'), C Murray (0-1), B Bradley (0-1).
Subs: N Delargy for McCann (45), S McVeigh for Dowling (47).
Yellow cards: Hamill (13), McBride (24), Dowling (46), McAleer (75). Red cards: Murray (65), Beatty (66). Black card: Lynch (63).
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).


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