Feeney provides spark as Mayo take title
Mayo 2-16 Armagh 1-15
Kenny Feeney was the star as Mayo finished strongly to edge out Armagh in a keenly-contested Nicky Rackard Cup final.
The westerners were able to call on the services of football All-Star Keith Higgins and U-21 football championship winner David Kenny, but it was Feeney, with a goal and nine points, who provided the impetus for a memorable success.
Higgins has endured much heartache in Croke Park, but the Ballyhaunis man was delighted with the victory, particularly as Mayo had endured relegation last season.
"Performance-wise, we probably weren't anywhere near where we would have liked, but there were a few crucial balls in the second half," said Higgins.
"Maybe it was the fact it was driven into us all year we were going to win it, without being over-confident.
"When it came down to it, we really wanted it."
Mayo got off to a dream start, with a goal in under three minutes from Darren McTigue.
Higgins started the move with a lengthy clearance from the left corner-back position and after some brilliant skill and persistence by Sean Regan, McTigue finished first time off the sod.
There was never much between the teams throughout, though, as they each had periods of dominance.
David Carvill got Armagh going and Joe McManus also hit the target.
But the magnificent Feeney and Regan, with a pearler from distance, stretched Mayo ahead once more.
Armagh's riposte was impressive, as they landed five consecutive points via the excellent Declan Coulter, Carvill and Ryan Gaffney and only for Donal O'Brien's brave save from Coulter, the Orchard County men would have gone in leading at the interval, instead of level on 0-9 to 1-6.
It got even better for Armagh when Coulter fed Eoin McGuinness for a goal within a minute of the resumption.
Not for the first time, nor the last, Feeney came to the rescue with a clinical finish for a goal to bring the westerners back into it and three points made it 2-11 to 1-11 for JP Coen's crew.
Before long, Armagh had restored parity once more, Conor Corvan, Coulter and McGuinness splitting the uprights.
It was Feeney who produced the decisive contribution, though, pointing a free from just inside his own half after being agriculturally fouled by Peter McKearney with four minutes remaining.
He followed up with a glorious point from the right wing after a strong run by Regan and then provided the assist for Regan to score from a similar position.
When substitute Corey Scahill slotted a point, it was all over.
Scorers - Mayo: K Feeney 1-9 (6 f), D McTigue 1-0, S Regan, F Boland 0-2 each, J McManus, S Boland, C Scahill 0-1 each . Armagh: D Coulter 0-5, R Gaffney 0-4 (2f, 1 '65), E McGuinness 1-1, D Carvill, C Corvan 0-2 each, C Carvill 0-1.
Mayo - D O'Brien; B Hunt (c), G McManus, E Collins; C Freeman, P O'Flynn, A Lyons; D Kenny, C Charlton; J McManus, K Higgins, S Regan; S Boland, K Feeney, D McTigue. Subs: P Connell for Lyons (h-t), F Boland for McTigue (43), C Scahill for O'Flynn (55), K McDermott for Hunt (62), G Nolan for Boland (70).
Armagh - S Doherty; C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin; J Corvan, N Curry, C Toner; K McKernan, S Renaghan; R Gaffney, C Carvill (c), D Carvill; D Coulter, E McGuinness, C Corvan. Subs: J King for Renaghan (55), P McKearney for J Corvan (56), O Curry for Coulter (67).
Ref - J Murphy (Limerick)