Friday 15 December 2017

'I'm happy with Armagh' - Kieran McGeeney upbeat despite surrender Division Two status

Armagh 1-18 Derry 0-15

Armagh's Stefan Campbell is tackled by Derry defender Chrissy McKaigue Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Armagh's Stefan Campbell is tackled by Derry defender Chrissy McKaigue Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Derry's Emmett McGuckin tries to retain possession Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Derry's Emmett McGuckin tries to evade Armagh's Shea Heffron Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Orla Bannon

If it's possible to be upbeat about relegation, then Kieran McGeeney certainly presented himself as a 'glass-half-full' type of guy and insisted Armagh are on an upward curve despite crashing out of Division 2 for the second time in three seasons.

For sure, his team finished this campaign a whole lot better than they started it.

There was plenty of solace to take from the draws against Galway and Tyrone and from yesterday's comfortable win in the Athletic Grounds, even if their frantic chase for points during seven minutes of injury time proved futile.

They needed to hit five more points to escape the drop and while the home supporters applauded the players off after a valiant effort, the damage had been done several weeks ago - the 17-point hammering by Cavan ultimately proving to be their undoing.

"Apart from that game, we've been competitive," said McGeeney.

"We've turned things around since then and are playing better football. You could point to the Galway game or the Laois game (which they lost), but all I can say is that I'm happy with Armagh.

"We've been missing easy chances but I think we've a better structure at the back, we're moving in the right direction and we're getting players back, so we're in a good position in that sense."

Damian Barton was back on the sideline for Derry after serving an eight-week ban which he labelled after the game as "ridiculous".

Punished for his part in the brawl against Tyrone during the McKenna Cup final, he said: "I'm not happy. I'm not happy about serving it (the ban)".

But he had sympathy for Armagh after an eventful campaign: "It's very cruel on the likes of Armagh but that's the story of this division, fine margins".

Armagh effectively won the game with an unanswered 1-5 in 15 minutes before the break to open up a 1-12 to 0-7 interval lead.

Ethan Rafferty, who along with Derry's Mark Lynch hit 0-7 from frees, converted three during that spell while Rory Grugan also nailed two from play, with Micheal McKenna grabbing the goal in stoppage time. After good work by Stefan Campbell and Ciaran O'Hanlon whose surging run carved Derry open, McKenna cut inside to drill the ball low with his left foot for the decisive strike.

Campbell opened up brightly with superb points from play off either foot while Christopher Bradley also hit two memorable points in a first half littered with quality scores. It was nip and tuck for most of it until Armagh hit that flurry of scores before half-time.

Completed Derry lost their way either side of the break and when Colm Watters scored in the 45th minute, he completed the set with all six Armagh starting forwards scoring from play.

The second half failed to live up to the heights of the first, but Derry did rally again and closed the gap to three points with James Kielt and Ryan Bell points.

"At eight points down at half-time we weren't happy. We came back to three points but over-elaborated so we have plenty to work on," said Barton. "It's been an emotional rollercoaster at times in this division, but the boys have done well."

Armagh did well against the wind but weren't accurate enough, kicking some poor wides from decent scoring positions. Knowing scoring difference could be crucial however, they kept pressing and hit four of the last five points.

It was a gallant effort, but too little too late as results elsewhere conspired against them, Meath's win over Laois and Fermanagh's draw with Tyrone condemning them to an instant return to Division 3.

Scorers - Armagh: E Rafferty 0-7 (7f), M McKenna 1-1, S Campbell 0-3, R Grugan 0-2, A Mallon, M Shields, C O'Hanlon, C Watters, G McParland 0-1 each. Derry: M Lynch 0-7 (7f), J Kielt 0-3 (2f), C Bradley 0-2, E McGuckin, SL McGoldrick, R Bell 0-1 each.

Armagh - P Morrison 6; A Mallon 8, C Vernon 7, S Heffron 7; M Shields 7, S Connell 7, J McElroy 7; A Forker 7, E Rafferty 8; R Grugan 8, M McKenna 8, C O'Hanlon 7; C Watters 7, S Campbell 8, G McParland 7. Subs: T Kernan 7 for McElroy (48), N Grimley 6 for O'Hanlon (55), M McNeice 6 for Morrison (58), A Findon 6 for McParland (69).

Derry - T Mallon 6; O Duffy 6, C McKaigue 7, K McKaigue 7; L McGoldrick 6, B Rogers 6, D Heavron 6; C McAtamney 6, C McFaul 7; N Loughlin 6, C Bradley 8, J Kielt 8; E McGuckin 7, M Lynch 8, SL McGoldrick 7. Subs: E Bradley 7 for McAtamney (34), R Bell 7 for SL McGoldrick (h-t), C Mullan 6 for L McGoldrick (h-t), C Murphy 6 for Loughlin (55), D Mullan 6 for McGuckin (55), C O'Boyle 6 for Kielt (64).

Ref - F Kelly (Longford)

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