Sunday 19 January 2020

McGeeney slams critics after epic rally

Armagh 2-16 Clare 1-15

Stephen Sheridan of Armagh celebrates after scoring his side’s crucial second goal. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Stephen Sheridan of Armagh celebrates after scoring his side’s crucial second goal. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Orla Bannon

There was nothing about the previous 69 minutes to suggest Armagh would produce what they produced, but they found some late inspiration to somehow turn this game on its head in a fast and furious finish.

As the game approached the 70th minute, Armagh trailed by three points. Three minutes earlier, Clare thought they had won it when David Tubridy followed up his own saved penalty and tapped home the rebound with three minutes of normal time remaining.

But when substitute Joe McElroy's goal levelled the scores heading into an allocated six minutes of stoppage time, Clare completely folded.

They lost the resulting kick-out after McElroy's goal and that was that. Armagh, who had kicked 18 wides over the course of a sweltering afternoon, blitzed them with another four unanswered points.

Clare hardly got another sniff as Armagh swarmed all over them, sensing their opponents' shock at what was now looking inevitable, and a flurry of points from Rory Grugan, subs Gavin McParland and Ross McQuillan and then finally Aidan Forker put the gloss on an incredible afternoon for Armagh.

They are now one game away from equalling last year's progression to the last eight of the All-Ireland SFC series.

Éimhín Courtney of Clare in action against Brendan Donaghy of Armagh. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Éimhín Courtney of Clare in action against Brendan Donaghy of Armagh. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The rewards will be even greater this time with the inaugural Super 8s in store, and it was all there on the line for both teams in the Athletic Grounds yesterday for whoever wanted to reach out and grab it. Armagh were that team, and afterwards manager Kieran McGeeney had nothing but praise for them - though he was less complimentary about the pundits.

"The players never gave up. I have nothing but admiration for them. You could see the smiles on the faces of the young people afterwards and it's good because that's the way forward. In other sports they make heroes out of games but we spend our time on TV demonising our players and personalising things.

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"To me, whether it's rugby or soccer, we talk about the great role models they are, yet you look at our players and all I hear on TV is personal attacks.

"When you see that sort of effort from both teams today, maybe you could cut them a wee break. Maybe they're a wee bit better than we (past players) were."

Gregory McCabe of Armagh in action against Pearse Lillis of Clare. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Gregory McCabe of Armagh in action against Pearse Lillis of Clare. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Certainly if was about leadership, then Armagh captain Rory Grugan could not have done more. He had a huge role in the turnaround late on, with three of his six points from play coming in the last 10 minutes.

His two quick-fire points inside a minute before Tubridy's goal were massive scores because they gave Armagh the belief and they extracted every last drop out of themselves in the crucial closing minutes, while Clare paid the price for not closing it out.

Armagh made the start they'd wanted in a lively opening half and raced into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 12 minutes.

They moved the ball forward quickly and tried to hit the men inside but at times the final pass and shooting accuracy let them down, and that was a growing feature of the opening half.

After a ropey first 10 minutes or so, Clare found their feet and scored five unanswered points to gain a real foothold in the game. Armagh were wide open through the middle of their defence and allowed Clare to sail through unopposed with most of their scores coming directly in front of the posts.

Keelan Sexton's superb pass teed up Eimhin Courtney for one before scoring himself, then David Tubridy and the impressive Jamie Malone nudged Clare in front. Armagh had plenty of possession but weren't always smart with it and kicked 11 first-half wides to Clare's six.

They did draw level at six points apiece with a Niall Grimley free and Ryan McShane's point which came after a slick counter-attack, but Clare scored three more points before the break to lead by 0-9 to 0-7.

Malone forced a superb diving save from Blaine Hughes but scored his second point a few minutes later, with the direction of Clare's runs causing problems for Armagh tracking back.

There were loads of twists and turns in the second half with Clare dominant in the third quarter and opening up a 0-13 to 0-8 lead heading into the final quarter.

That's when things got interesting, with Andrew Murnin's smart finish on the turn starting the first Armagh revival. That left them a point behind but Clare thought they'd weathered the storm with Tubridy's goal.

A high challenge by Armagh sub Ryan Owens on Courtney gave Clare a penalty, and while Blaine Hughes saved the shot, Tubridy followed up the rebound and tapped it home.

But there was still time for one more twist, with McElroy's goal igniting Armagh's furious finish to book their place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland series.

Scorers - Armagh: R Grugan 0-6 (2f); A Murnin 1-1; N Grimley 0-4 (4f); J McElroy 1-0; R McShane, A Murnin, A Forker, R McQuillan, G McParland 0-1 each. Clare: D Tubridy 1-3; E Cleary (1f), J Malone 0-3 each; E Courtney, P Lillis 0-2 each; K Sexton, C O'Connor 0-1 each.

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, G McCabe; M Shields, B Donaghy, A Forker; C Vernon, C Mackin; R Grugan, J Hall, N Grimley; R McShane, A Murnin, S Sheridan. Subs: N Rowland for Mackin (half-time), R Owens for McKay (42), R McQuillan for Hall (50), J McElroy for Sheridan (55), G McParland for McShane (65), J Duffy for Shields (70, BC).

Clare: R Eyres; G Kelly, C Brennan, E Collins; C O'Dea, A Fitzgerald, P Lillis; G Brennan, C O'Connor; C Malone, E Cleary, J Malone; E Courtney, K Sexton, D Tubridy. Subs: K Harnett for Collins (half-time), K Roche for Eyres (50), C ó hAinifein for O'Dea (57, BC), G O'Brien for Fitzgerald (63), G Cooney for Sexton (65).

Referee: F Kelly (Longford).

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