Sunday 25 March 2018

McDonnell fired by fresh hunger

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE diary of Steven McDonnell, aged 30-and-a-bit: "Time is not on my side as a footballer, but I'm going to make the best use I can of what's left to me. Oh -- must remember not to hit free-kicks off the upright."

Ah yes. Stevie Wonder they were calling him around Crossmaglen after the Armagh sharpshooter struck 1-9, all from play, in the annihilation of Westmeath. And it could have been one more, as McDonnell hit the woodwork with a very scorable chance from a free-kick in the 72nd minute.

One wag in the press box suggested Stevie didn't want to spoil his exemplary record by tagging on a score from a 'mere' free, but don't you believe it.

The hunger and desire inherent in McDonnell's performance was evident from the start when he carved an opening and scored the first point of the game after just 22 seconds.

Appropriately, the Killeavy clubman closed out the scoring in the match, taking Armagh's tally to 2-19, with a fine point taken from an acute angle in the 68th minute.

In between, he was pivotal to a rampant Armagh attack, in which Charlie Vernon, Joe Feeney, Tony Kernan and Aaron Kernan also played starring roles. The victory was just the tonic new manager Paddy O'Rourke and his team needed as a confidence booster.

O'Rourke, the Down man in charge of Armagh, saw his charges go down by a single point at Navan against Meath last week, but lessons were learned and put to good use yesterday. Yes, it's just two points, but the sparkle and bite in McDonnell's game bodes well for the rest of the Division 2 campaign.

"It was an all-round good display by the team," said McDonnell.

"We put the scores on the board and that's where it all counts." Speaking of his own attitude and desire McDonnell said: "I've said it before that over the last couple of years I probably lost a bit of the hunger, but certainly I know I haven't too many years left at this level, so I'm going to give it everything I have."

There wasn't much Westmeath manager Brendan Hackett could take from that display. Once McDonnell finished off a fine move to score Armagh's first goal after six minutes, the trend of the game was set.

Westmeath had patches of good play in that first half, with hard-working Donal O'Donoghue, David Duffy, Paul Greville, Denis Glennon and Conor Lynam combining well through the field at times.


The problem was that Aaron Kernan and Charlie Vernon roamed between the respective '40s' to great effect and Ciaran McKeever played a strong role as a breaker and starter of attacks from the centre-back position.

At half-time, with Armagh leading by 1-9 to 0-5, Westmeath brought on three subs -- James Durkan for Damien Healy, Ronan Doolin for Tommy Warburton, and Francis Boyle for O'Donoghue.

For the first seven minutes of that second half, Westmeath had Armagh pinned in their own half, but they failed to capitalise on that and once Ryan Henderson raised the siege with a break-away point after 44 minutes, the Westmeath resistance broke into scrappy and disorganised play.

Swift inter-passing between Stevie Mac and Charlie Vernon opened the way for Finnian Moriarty to slam the ball to the Westmeath net after 52 minutes.

Late in the game McDonnell was denied his second, and Armagh's third goal by a fine near-post save by Westmeath 'keeper Gary Connaughton.

Scorers -- Armagh: S McDonnell 1-9, F Moriarty 1-0, A Kernan (0-1f), T Kernan (0-2f), G Swift 0-2 each, C Vernon, R Henderson, J Feeney, C Watters 0-1 each. Westmeath: D Glennon 0-4 (0-2f), P Greville 0-3 (0-2f), D Duffy 0-1.

Armagh -- P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; A Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; B Shannon, K Toner; J Feeney, C Vernon, G Swift; R Henderson, S McDonnell, T Kernan Subs: M McNamee for R Henderson (52,), P Kernan for F Moriarty (55), C Watters for A Kernan (58), J O'Neill for J Feeney (60), K Dyas for P Duffy (62).

Westmeath -- G Connaughton; K Gavin, M Ennis, J Gaffey; G Egan, D O'Donoghue, D Harte; D Duffy, S Bracken; T Warburton, P Greville, J Smyth; D Healy, D Glennon, C Lynam Subs: G Hoey for J Smyth (12), J Durkan for D Healy (h-t), R Doolin for T Warburton (h-t), F Boyle for D O'Donoghue (h-t), D Healy for K Gavin (51).

Ref -- M Higgins (Fermanagh).

Irish Independent

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