Saturday 16 December 2017

McVerry on fire as Armagh declare open season on Leitrim

Armagh 8-13 Leitrim 0-10

Eugene McVerry who hit three goals
Eugene McVerry who hit three goals
Armagh's Tony Kernan

The heady days of FBD Cup success which kickstarted a season full of promise for Leitrim came crashing down to earth in the warm sunshine of Pairc Sean Mhic Diarmada as Armagh ruthlessly put them to the sword in this round 2 qualifier.

Co-manager Barney Breen ruefully reflected on what might have been had seven of his first-choice players been available, and he also lamented the loss of wing-forward Paddy McGowan after five minutes.

They were in a "fragile mental state" after the loss to London, he remarked afterwards, "and a good start was essential."

However, Armagh had similar intent and following some early skirmishes which yielded two points, one a free from Tony Kernan (left) after five minutes which was followed four minutes later by a Jamie Clarke point from play, the Orchard County struck for the first of their amazing eight goals.

Kevin Dyas' crossfield pass found Eugene McVerry in space 20 metres out and he clinically dispatched to the net.

Leitrim finally got on the scoreboard after 17 minutes through a Kevin Conlon pointed free but that was cancelled out three minutes later by a second Kernan free.

That was only the entree as Kernan, teed up by a fisted pass from Ethan Rafferty, slipped the ball past the hapless Cathal McCrann for his side's second goal.

An exchange of points between Leitrim's Conlon and Armagh's Clarke in the 24th minute prefaced another goal.

It started out when Leitrim lost possession to Dyas and the pacy forward ran all of 60 metres as the Leitrim defence opened like the Red Sea to facilitate his drive for goal.

The fourth goal of the half came one minute from the interval when McVerry added to his tally following an excellent move involving Kernan and Dyas, to leave Leitrim shell-shocked on a half-time score of 4-8 to 0-4.

Despite the 16-point margin, the more optimistic of the home crowd prayed for a second-half comeback to equal the heroics of the second game against London, when Leitrim just fell short of overhauling a similar margin.

However, two early Armagh goals ended those hopes. Both goals came within a minute of each other, the first providing McVerry with his hat-trick after a passing movement involving substitute Stefan Campbell, Ciaran McKeever and Caolan Rafferty, while the second came from Mark Shields, who made the most of James Lavery's pass.

Leitrim's first point from play finally arrived in the 50th minute through Conlon, who along with the hard-working Robbie Lowe was one of the few bright sparks in the Leitrim attack.

Conlon followed up one minute later with another pointed free.

It got worse for the home side in the 59th minute when Clarke scored his first goal, quickly followed by his second as the Leitrim defence folded.

That was to be the end of the goal-fest, although it wasn't for the want of trying as the Armagh attack continued to go in search of goals and never seemed inclined to spare the blushes of Leitrim, who in the end breathed a collective sigh of relief when referee Fergal Kelly called time.

SCORERS – Armagh: E McVerry 3-0, J Clarke 2-3 (0-1f), T Kernan 1-5 (0-3fs, 0-1 '45'), A Kernan 0-4 (3fs), K Dyas, M Shields 1-0 each, S Harold 0-1. Leitrim: K Conlon 0-8 (7fs), R Cox (f), D Sweeney 0-1 each.

Armagh – P McEvoy 7; P McKeown 7, B Donaghy 8, J Morgan 7; A Kernan 8, C McKeever 8, M Shields 8; J Lavery 8, S Harold 8; C Rafferty 9, K Dyas 9, E Rafferty 8; J Clarke 9, T Kernan 9, E McVerry 9. Subs: S Campbell 7 for E Rafferty (27), C O'Hanlon 7 for McVerry (48), F Moriarty 7 for Shields (53), A Forker 7 for C Rafferty (55), S Forker for Clarke (63).

LEITRIM – C McCrann 5; F McMorrow 5, C Egan 5, S McWeeney 5; D Beck 5, G Reynolds 6, B Prior 5; D Sweeney 6, B Brennan 5; P McGowan 5, J Glancy 5, P Brennan 5; A Croal 5, R Lowe 7, K Conlon 7. Subs: R Gallagher 5 for McGowan (5), R Cox 5 for Croal (h-t), C Clark 5 for Beck (44), G Reynolds 5 for McMorrow (56).

Ref – F Kelly (Longford)

Game at a glance

Man of the match

Eugene McVerry (Armagh)

While Jamie Clarke and Tony Kernan made a considerable impact on the game, scoring 3-8 between them, a hat-trick in championship football is rare and McVerry's tally was the icing on the cake for Armagh.

Turning point

McVerry's opening goal after 10 minutes was a killer blow for an already fragile Leitrim, who lost forward Paddy McGowan to injury in the opening minutes and never recovered.

Talking point

This was as bad as it gets for Leitrim, who were humiliated by a rampant, merciless Armagh side. Following two facile victories so far in the qualifiers, Armagh supporters will be hoping their luck holds out in the draw as they progress to the business end of the championship season.

Ref watch

Fergal Kelly had little to do other than oversee a mauling, although he took no lip from either side.

Magic moment

McVerry's third goal early in the second half involved three players in the build-up and was typical of the collective strength of the Armagh attack.

What they said

Paul Grimley (Armagh manager):

"We're in the draw on Monday morning. No, I did not think it would be that easy but Leitrim were ravaged by injuries, suspensions and emigration so you must factor that into the result."

Barney Breen (Leitrim co-manager):

"We're devastated, we had hoped to get off to a good start but once the first couple of goals went in we were fighting all the time. I am tremendously proud of their commitment and dedication."

Match statistics

Wides

Armagh 7 (4 first half)

Leitrim 9 (4)

Yellow cards

Armagh 2 (S Campbell 60, J Morgan 67)

Leitrim 2 (S McWeeney 66, B Prior 69)

RED CARDS

Armagh 0, Leitrim 0

What's next?

Armagh go to Round 3 of the qualifiers while a season that was full of promise for Leitrim ends in devastating fashion.

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