Armagh 0-17, Mayo 0-17
Put arguably the most two fervently supported teams in the game right now into one of the most atmospheric venues there is at this level on such a sun-drenched spring afternoon and add in their own propensity for chaos anyway and you were bound to get something like the compelling finish that evolved.
Armagh and Mayo was never going to pass off quietly and drama was always going to underwrite any script. As much as they both tried to bring control and structure throughout, natural instincts will always kick in and a certain disorder will prevail.
The home side came away with a point that looked most unlikely 10 minutes earlier when they trailed by five, 0-17 to 0-12, and looked like they’d been cut adrift and were heading out to sea.
But the Athletic Grounds was heaving (14,113 in attendance for much of it) and, after a brief lull, kicked into action again.
This is a relatively inexperienced Mayo team and they backed away a little and lived dangerously in the end. What Mayo team hasn’t!
Between the 67th minute and over six minutes of injury-time, Armagh scored all five points. Rian O’Neill got the last three, two frees either side of a ’45, once again underlining his ability to hold his nerve in these clutch situations.
The last free that closed it out, awarded by referee Fergal Kelly for a foul on O’Neill himself, was dubious but perhaps balanced out against some awards that went Mayo’s way earlier in the half. Not ideal but that is sometimes the way it plays out.
A point lost then for Mayo after a nine-point swing – they were 0-8 to 0-4 behind as half-time approached before hitting two late scores for 0-8 to 0-6. In the immediate aftermath, manager Kevin McStay could only see the positives.
“I know we were five up, and most people will concentrate on that,” said McStay. “But I’m not going to go down that road, I’m going to concentrate on what got us there, really good, smart positive play, great attitude, enthusiasm.
“This was championship stuff essentially. Great atmosphere, a fantastic ground, and we knew Armagh were going to come back at us, in every sense, and I tip my hat to them. It wasn’t easy on them to make good choices in the last 10 minutes either.”
And it was hard to dispute McStay’s contention that when March is complete, this will be a valuable point.
But there’ll be a gnawing sense that they should have closed it out. Three points clear on 56 minutes, they worked a brilliant counter move through Aidan O’Shea, in sprightly form throughout, Ryan O’Donoghue, Cillian O’Connor and finally Jordan Flynn who had a goal chance but was thwarted before Callum Cumiskey cleared his lines to avoid Mayo’s lead being doubled.
And game management in those closing stages will also be reviewed and questioned hard. Eoghan McLaughlin, another effective substitute, took a shot at 0-17 to 0-16 when the ball needed to be in the hands of O’Connor or O’Donoghue instead. By that stage O’Shea had been called ashore and his experience down that home stretch was missed.
Armagh got a return from all four substitutes used and there were times, especially in the first half, when they played the best football to establish a decent lead.
Stefan Campbell is bringing something more with his runs from midfield while Andrew Murnin and Conor Turbitt always looked a threat inside. Armagh were, by and large, the more aggressive side up to the break too.
“We felt we were pushed off the break a little bit, legitimately pushed off the break, because they were a bit hungrier,” acknowledged McStay. “We don’t want that for our team, we should be every bit as hungry.”
With wind advantage they pressed hard and had great success on Ethan Rafferty’s kick-out, at one stage taking five in succession. And that put them on the front foot with O’Shea a real handful at full-forward.
O’Donoghue got the frees he’d be expected to get and significantly retained the responsibility even when O’Connor twice joined the fray, the first as a temporary substitute for James Carr.
O’Connor was effective too, scoring a point in both cameos, one of which could have been a goal when he intercepted a Rafferty kick-out close to half-time.
“You’re a bit disappointed with some parts of the play, but then you are just proud of the way the boys showed real determination and passion, to keep going,” said Armagh coach Kieran Donaghy.
The kick-outs were an issue to improve on, he accepted, though Ethan Rafferty was very effective joining the play outfield.
“I don’t think we gave Ethan too many options to help support because it’s a tough position for a goalie when a team has a high press,” said Donaghy.
Scorers – Armagh: R O’Neill 0-6 (5fs, 1 ’45); C Turbitt, A Murnin, R Grugan (2fs) 0-3 each; S Campbell, T Kelly 0-1 each. Mayo: R O’Donoghue 0-7 (6fs); A O’Shea (m), J Flynn, J Carr, C O’Connor 0-2 each; F McDonagh, M Ruane all 0-1 each.
Armagh – E Rafferty 8; R Finn 5, A McKay 6, A Forker 7; P Burns 7, B McCambridge 6, J Óg Burns 7; Connaire Mackin 5, S Campbell 7; T Kelly 6, R Grugan 7, J Hall 5; R O’Neill 8, A Murnin 8, C Turbitt 8. Subs: N Grimley 7 for Finn (h-t), C Cumiskey 6 for Mackin (50), J Duffy 6 for Hall (50), R McQuillan 7 for Kelly (62).
Mayo – C Reape 8; J Coyne 7, D McBrien 7, R Brickenden 7; S Coen 7, C Loftus 6, E Hession 6; M Ruane 7, J Carney 6; F McDonagh 6, B Tuohy 6, J Flynn 8; J Carr 7, A O’Shea 8, R O’Donoghue 7. Subs: C O’Connor for Carr temp (31-h-t), C O’Connor 7 for Carney (47), E McLaughlin 6 for McDonagh (50), D McHale 5 for Tuohy (57), C McStay 5 for Carr (62), D McHugh for O’Shea (72).
Ref – F Kelly (Longford)