Thursday 23 January 2020

Armagh surge past Royals despite constant downpour

Armagh 0-18 Meath 0-13

David Bray, Meath, in action against Mark Shields, Armagh
David Bray, Meath, in action against Mark Shields, Armagh
Jamie Clarke, Armagh, in action against Michael Burke, Meath
Stephen Harold, Armagh, in action against Andrew Tormey, Meath

Dermot Crowe

In terrible conditions, under a constant heavy downpour, Armagh gave their supporters hope that they may be more than a number in this year's championship.

They came south disgruntled by disciplinary events earlier in the summer and did the business with an efficiency that was impressive. They looked well schooled, knew precisely what way they wanted to play, and won with Jamie Clarke enduring a form of incarceration. He kicked one point, their first, but couldn't get into the game, two Meath bodyguards keeping close attendance. It didn't matter. There were score-takers elsewhere, more than Meath could muster.

Every Armagh forward left his signature on the scoreboard from open play. They finished with 18 points, only two of those frees, on a day not made for stylish football and shooting from distance. But several of their scores showed keen marksmanship. Aidan Forker had three sweet strikes in the opening half and Stefan Campbell matched that total over a wider timespan. Aaron Kernan, a late replacement for the injured Ciaran McKeever, hared up the field on many counter-attacks and kicked two scores. Brian Mallon came off the bench and landed two late ones.

By the time Mallon was pointing, Armagh were virtually home, and enjoying themselves. But they had to win this game twice over. In the first half they led by six points and Meath went 24 minutes without a score. Over that period they scored eight points without reply to take what looked a firm command. But a slackening-off period in the five minutes before half-time allowed Meath back into the match and they went in at the interval only one behind, 0-8 to 0-7.

Forker was at the end of most good things Armagh produced in the opening half, with the Ulster side obliged to strike from distance. The option of hitting ball to Clarke, playing in a two-man inside-forward line, was prohibitive as he was crowded and the pass offered too much risk. When he did score it came from an error when Paddy O'Rourke got his wires crossed with a colleague and Clarke ended up with the ball and a handy point.

In the second half the match swayed over and back but coming towards the hour Armagh had built another lead, three points this time, and they were not going to let go. Instead, they consolidated it by dominating the final 10. They showed some of their old swagger as they ventured forward to seek to inflict the final fatal blows.

The defeated Leinster finalists bow out with a poor performance. Their highest-scoring forward, Graham Reilly, didn't start, dropped after the Dublin game. He came on nearing half-time for Brian Meade as Meath started cranking up the gears and finding a scoring run. One of those scores was his and he had the equaliser 30 seconds after the interval. He ended with three which was a fine return.

Less commendably, Reilly was turned over at one stage in the third quarter, a moment reflective of other similar incidents and suggesting that Meath's education on modern playing systems has still some way to go. Armagh are old hands at this and while Reilly deliberated in possession they won the ball back and careered down the field, wing-back Mark Shields kicking a point in the 47th minute to put his side 0-12 to 0-10 up. In the time that had passed since the interval there was nothing between the teams but Armagh had a more threatening look going forward.

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In the first half they survived a scare when Michael Newman cracked a shot off their crossbar with the sides tied at 0-2 apiece. Otherwise, their goal was safe, although Philip McEvoy didn't look entirely convincing under some high balls that he elected to punch.

Newman failed to score from play for Meath and Stephen Bray drew a blank as well, being substituted after 58 minutes. The football they will feel they can play just never materialised, apart from patches, and those good spells either side of half-time. Armagh had bodies back and closed up shop. An early crunching challenge that flattened Damien Carroll earned Aaron Findon a yellow card but the game never got out of control.

Shields's point was the last score for 10 minutes until Campbell pointed in the 56th minute to stretch the Armagh to three points. With a quarter-final next Saturday beckoning, and a good lead already squandered earlier in the match, they resolved to pin back Meath. Kevin Dyas and Campbell put five between them, entering the final 10 minutes. Serious daylight. Mallon came on and had his brace and Meath had no answer this time.

Scorers - Armagh: T Kernan (2f), A Forker, S Campbell 0-3 each; A Kernan, B Mallon 0-2 each; M Shields, K Carragher, J Clarke, K Dyas, S Forker 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 0-4 (3fs, 1 '45'); G Reilly 0-3; D Bray (1f), P O'Rourke (2f) 0-2 each; D Carroll, A Tormey 0-1 each.

Armagh: P McEvoy; J Morgan, C Vernon, A Mallon; M Shields, B Donaghy, A Kernan; S Harold, A Findon; S Campbell, T Kernan, A Forker; K Carragher, K Dyas, J Clarke. Subs: M Murray for Morgan (h-t); R Grugan for Carragher (56); B Mallon for Forker (inj 60); S Forker for T Kernan (68); F Moriarty for Donaghy (69).

Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keoghan,M Burke, D Tobin; D Carroll, B Menton; S O'Rourke, A Flanagan; B Meade, B McMahon, A Tormey; D Bray, S Bray, M Newman. Subs: G Reilly for Meade (31); E Harrington for Carroll (52); D McDonagh for S Bray (58); J Wallace for D Bray (61); P Gilsenan for McDonagh (inj 63); B Meade for S O'Rourke (65).

Referee: R Hickey (Clare).

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