RELIEF rather than delight was the overriding reaction to Armagh's one-point win over Monaghan in what was a rather turgid encounter at the Athletic Grounds yesterday.
In a game punctuated by too many errors, Paddy O'Rourke's side left it late to seal their first win of the campaign.
Indeed, they had looked to be in trouble when Monaghan led by 0-12 to 0-10 with eight minutes remaining. But substitute Brian Mallon pilfered the only goal of the game prior to veteran right full-back Andy Mallon swooping for what proved to be the winning point after Monaghan had again forced stalemate at 1-10 to 0-13.
It was hardly surprising that O'Rourke had qualified praise for his side given that they face particularly demanding assignments over the coming weeks, beginning with Saturday's mission against Down.
"We showed great commitment in the last seven minutes in particular. But we made too many errors and if we continue to do this we will be punished," he said.
His opposite number Eamon McEnaney suggested that "a little bit of naivety" had contributed to his team's downfall but he made it clear that their ambition to prove a force in Division 1 remains intact.
In a dull, listless first-half Conor McManus and Paul Finlay (2) hit three points from Monaghan frees and Rory Grugan (2) and Stephen McDonnell had been on target for the home side from placed balls before McManus got the first point of the game from play in the 26th minute -- a testimony to the overall lack of clinical finishing.
Armagh led by 0-6 to 0-5 at the break as Monaghan continued to rely heavily on Finlay and McManus to convert frees and they appeared to be in pole position when they enjoyed a 0-12 to 0-10 advantage with seven minutes left.
But when sub Mallon swooped for his crucial goal with just four minutes left, the pendulum swung in Armagh's favour.
And even though McManus levelled matters, Monaghan's overworked defence could not prevent the marauding Andy Mallon thieving a 71st-minute point that gave his side their first victory and spawned optimism of better times on the horizon.
Man of the Match -- Stephen McDonnell (Armagh).
Scorers -- Armagh: S McDonnell 0-5 (3f), R Grugan 0-4 (3f), B Mallon 1-0, M O'Rourke, A Mallon 0-1 each. Monaghan: P Finlay 0-7 (5f), C McManus 0-5 (2f), M Downey 0-1.
ARMAGH -- P McEvoy 6; A Mallon 7, B Donaghy 7, F Moriarty 6; K Dyas 6, C McKeever 7, P Duffy 6; K Toner 7, C Vernon 8; R Grugan 7, M O'Rourke 6, M Mackin 6; B J Padden 6, G Swift 6, S McDonnell 8. Subs: B Mallon 7 for Padden (55), J Lavery 6 for Mackin (57).
MONAGHAN -- M Keogh 6; K Duffy 6, Darren Hughes 8, C Walshe 6; C Galligan 6, D Mone 7, David Hughes 6; N McAdam 6, D Clerkin 8; G Doogan 7, M Downey 6, J Turley 5; C McGuinness 5, P Finlay 8, C McManus 8. Subs: T Freeman 5 for McGuinness (55), E Lennon 5 for Turley (62), S Smyth 5 for Downey (68).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath).