Padden puts old friends to the sword
Billy Joe Padden and new Taoiseach Enda Kenny each had their own version of a homecoming at McHale Park, where Padden emerged with the spoils of victory after a hard-fought match.
Padden's revamped inter-county career with Armagh is in the early stages, and yesterday's game was a big test.
Unlike the Taoiseach, who received a standing ovation from the crowd before the match, Padden's welcome was warm but low-key. And he was happy with that.
The 29-year-old made his Mayo senior debut at McHale Park in February 2001, and going back there with Armagh 10 years later was bound to feel a bit strange for the Belmullet man.
"Yes, it was very difficult," said Padden. "I was trying not to think about it during the week, but when I saw all the lads I used to play with, and even the fellas that help in the back-room, it was a bit difficult. But it was great to see them and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the year."
This was not a classic match, but how could it be with a bitter and very strong wind howling down the pitch?
Armagh had the breeze behind them in the first half, but that had not even begun to be a factor before they were a goal ahead within 25 seconds of the throw-in.
Big Charlie Vernon got hold of the ball from the first tussle for possession and passed downfield to Gareth Swift. Swift by name, and swift by nature as the No 10 moved the ball crisply to Malachy Mackin, who in turn found full-forward Brian Mallon in space to hit the Mayo net.
Andy Moran got Mayo's first point two minutes later, but very quickly, Steven McDonnell scored from a free to restore Armagh's three-point lead.
McDonnell was self-critical after his side's defeat by a point to Down, but he made a big contribution to the win, scoring six points, four of them from frees. If Mayo found the going tough after the early set-backs, it got much harder when they conceded goal number two in the 16th minute.
The Armagh set-up had Padden playing a withdrawn role behind the midfielders, even though the Orchard men had the wind. This left space for counter-attacks, and the 16th-minute move involving Ciaran McKeever, McDonnell and Paul Duffy, which ended with Duffy blasting the ball into the Mayo net, was a classic strike out of a defensive situation.
Another point from a free by McDonnell almost immediately afterwards put the score 2-3 to 0-2 in Armagh's favour. Mayo were grinding, but they didn't get their third point until the 24th minute when Aidan Campbell raised a white flag from a free. Mayo let a couple of chances go to waste and it was frustrating for Moran to hit two wides in quick succession, but the home team's work rate could not be faulted.
Armagh, with Mackin the epitome of the unsung hard-working grafter who did great work up and down the pitch, matched Mayo for effort, and the crucial difference was that they kept nicking scores to keep a comfortable lead.
Typical of their play was a 35th-minute situation where they had 12 men defending a Mayo assault, and when the ball was cleared, Armagh got seven men forward before the move ended deep in Mayo territory.
Credit to Mayo, though. They were down by eight points, 2-5 to 0-3, when they grabbed an inspiring goal in time added on in the first half.
Ironically, Padden was involved, but at the wrong end for his team.
Padden was the last defender and tried to shepherd Jason Doherty out of the danger area, but Doherty managed to slip inside Padden and hit a goal from close range.
Typical of him, and significantly for Armagh, McDonnell had the last word of the half, scoring a point from a free 40 metres out, with the ball hitting the upright but dropping over the bar.
Half-time. Armagh 2-6, Mayo 1-3. No tally men around to call for a recount, but the wind advantage to come for Mayo in the second half.
Fair play to them, Mayo did all they could. They out-scored Armagh by seven points to four in the second half in a war of attrition.
The game really got interesting when Alan Dillon, Moran (free) and Aidan Kilcoyne fired over a point each midway through the half to make it 2-8 to 1-8 in Armagh's favour.
Kilcoyne benefited from a block by Moran on Ciaran McKeever which led to his point, and a McKeever clearance was blocked down again by Jason Gibbons in the 61st minute, leading to a score for Moran.
Apart from those errors, the old warrior McKeever had been a rock in the Armagh defence, but that Moran point left Mayo only one point down -- on a 2-8 to 1-10 scoreline -- with nine minutes left to play.
Armagh boss Paddy O'Rourke had freshened the side with a couple of subs and one of them, John Murtagh, got a key point in the 63rd minute to give his side a two-point lead.
And wouldn't you know, the old dog for the hard road McKeever popped up in the forward line to knock over the last score of the game in the 67th minute to ensure Armagh's second win of the campaign.
Man of the Match: S McDonnell (Armagh)
Scorers -- Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (4f), B Mallon, P Duffy 1-0 each, K Toner, C Vernon, J Murtagh, C McKeever 0-1 each.
Mayo: J Doherty 1-1, A Moran, A Campbell (3f) 0-3 each, A Dillon 0-2 (1f), A Kilcoyne 0-1.
Armagh -- P McEvoy 6; A Mallon 7, B Donaghy 7, F Moriarty 7; K Dyas 7, C McKeever 7, P Duffy 8; K Toner 6, C Vernon 7; G Swift 7, BJ Padden 7, M Mackin 8; M O'Rourke 7, B Mallon 8, S McDonnell 8. Subs: J Lavery 7 for K Toner (h-t), J Murtagh 6 for M O'Rourke (60), R Grogan 6 for G Swift (62), C Watters for B Mallon (70).
Mayo -- K O'Malley 6; T Cunniffe 6, C Hallinan 6, C Barrett 6; P Gardiner 6, G Cafferkey 6, R O'Connor 7 ; T Parsons 6, J Gibbons 6 ; A Campbell 7, A Dillon 7, K McLoughlin; A Kilcoyne 6, A Moran 7, J Doherty 7. Subs: R Feeney 6 for P Gardiner (h-t), R McGarrity 6 for T Parsons (49), E Varley 6 for A Kilcoyne (62), A O'Shea for K McLaughlin (68).
Ref -- S Doyle (Wexford).