Defiant Armagh circle the wagons and earn their reward
Three late points in the closing minutes book the Orchard County men a deserved replay against Monaghan
Monaghan’s Stephen Gollogly in action against Armagh’s Aaron Kernan during the Ulster SFC semi-final at Clones. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Mind where you step, for Armagh just now are men with toes only aching to be trod on.
Scarce is the hatch they see without battening it down, unheard of is the wagon that hasn’t been pulled tight into the circle. They have decided that they’re under siege and they are cranky and they are belligerent. It is a brave soul who would dare to leave the lid off the toothpaste tube in any Armagh bathroom for just a little while.
In fairness, it’s working reasonably for them. They came to Clones on Saturday short of the suspended Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy and Kieran Toner but long on grievance at their absence. Having decided late on Friday not to take their case to the DRA, they siphoned every last drop of fuel from their well of injustice and used it to claw and scratch their way to a well-deserved draw against Monaghan.
Parade brawlThey wiped out a three-point deficit in the closing four minutes and should carry plenty of momentum into the replay this Sunday, when they will have the parade brawl trio back available. That gives them a week to find a pebble to slip into their shoe if they’re to arrive back in Clones in the same us-against-the-world frame of mind.
It might be a tough sell because they’re due plenty of praise after this. They were worth every penny of their draw against a Monaghan side who for the second game in a row played hot potato with a second-half lead and this time couldn’t quite keep hold of it.
Where Niall Morgan missed a last-kick free for Tyrone in the quarter-final, Armagh substitute Rory Grugan nailed his.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, Armagh sent runner after runner into the massed bank of Monaghan bodies around the home side’s 45 and when Ryan Wylie caught a hold of Aaron Kernan’s jersey just outside the D, Joe McQuillan blew and grabbed the hem of his own shirt to explain why.
Malachy O’Rourke complained afterwards that it wasn’t an offence that had been called very much during the game but, in truth, it was a small nit to pick. McQuillan had a decent game overall and when Monaghan look back at the video, they will be more concerned at the amount of below-par displays in their own ranks. For a team around whom a certain amount of buzz has been gathering, they still don’t score enough when on top to put games out of reach.
They were never more than three points ahead of Armagh and although they might have had a penalty early in the second half, when Pádraig Donaghy was pulled back as he went through on Philip McEvoy, it was the only time over the 70 minutes that the Armagh goal was threatened.
Wherever Monaghan’s season brings them, their want of a goal threat will likely leave them pedalling harder than they should have to when the climb gets steepest.
They let Armagh hold onto their wheel here. Monaghan were 0-6 to 0-3 up after 22 minutes but Armagh scored the last three points of the half to send the sides in level at the break.
Jamie Clarke was terrific all night, beating his All Star marker (and flatmate) Colin Walshe to just about every ball. Stefan Campbell – a late inclusion for Caolán Rafferty – was a threat at every turn as well, as was Tony Kernan when he came on midway through the first half.
Clarke put Armagh ahead soon after the restart, only for Conor McManus to equalise soon after. McManus had been moving much more freely than against Tyrone but his night was to end early soon after when he got black carded for obstruction on Finian Moriarty as the Armagh defender came out with the ball.
It meant Monaghan would play out the last 25 minutes with only Kieran Hughes as a recognised inside forward.
Pushed onStill, they gradually pushed on. Dick Clerkin, outstanding again between the 45s, kicked the point of the day from distance off his left foot and Rory Beggan continued his unimpeachable form from frees. He ended the day with five from six, the first time a goalkeeper has been top scorer in an Ulster Championship match.
The sides were level with nine to go but when Monaghan kicked for home with points by Hughes, Beggan and Chris McGuinness, it looked like the sort of mature tidying up display of a team going places.
Not to be. Just as against Tyrone a fortnight earlier, Monaghan retreated and invited Armagh on to them.
Clarke wriggled through for a brilliant score on 68 minutes, Campbell found room for another on 70. One Monaghan possession and the game was over but instead Armagh came again. Wylie coughed up the free. Grugan’s kick was ice-cold in the circumstances.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-5, all frees); K Duffy, DWylie, C Walshe; D Mone, V Corey, F Kelly; D Clerkin (0-1), D Hughes; R Wylie, P Donaghy, J McCarron (0-1, free); D Malone, K Hughes (0-2), C McManus (0-2, free). Subs: S Gollogly (0-2, 0-1 free) for McCarron, half-time; C McGuinness (0-1) for McManus (black card, 45 mins); P McKenna for Donaghy (51 mins); P Finlay for Malone (63 mins); K O’Connell for Kelly (70 mins)
ARMAGH: P McEvoy; J Morgan, C Vernon, F Moriarty; A Kernan, C McKeever, M Shields (0-1); S Campbell (0-3), A Findon; E McVerry, K Dyas (0-1), A Forker (0-1); K Carragher, E Rafferty, J Clarke (0-3). Subs: T Kernan (0-3, 0-2 frees) for Carragher (black card, 21 mins); S Harold for Rafferty ( 50 mins); S Forker (0-1) for A Forker (55 mins); R Grugan (0-1, free) for McVerry (58); M Murray for Moriarty (65 mins). Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)