Late comeback gifts Armagh first All-Ireland title

 

Armagh 1-12 Kerry 0-14

Armagh summoned a performance from the depths to oust Kerry by a single point and claim their first Sam Maguire in a thrilling All-Ireland football final at Croke Park this afternoon.

Joe Kernan's Ulster champions transformed a revolting first half offering into one of the finest displays of honest, emotional football ever witnessed in the capital venue. Their opponents, Kerry, now travel back to the Kingdom ruing a miserable second half collapse after a technically superior display in the opening period had put them four up at the break.

Stephen McDonnell has earned himself a tall reputation through recent campaigns and he opened Armagh's account with a fine individual effort. But their start, which Kerry tapped into through Mike Frank Russell and Colm Cooper, failed to provide a platform from which to build a game plan.

Their persistence in launching high balls into the full forwards paid dividend on occasion - Ronan Clark registered two scores from out around the 40 - but ultimately the Kerry full back line settled well and mopped up the scraps.

Kerry soon dominated all areas and confined Armagh to their own half for much of the first period. Donal Daly and the magnificent Darragh O'Se raked up everything in the centre and provided Russell and Cooper with quality ball. The corner forward duo caused their markers Enda McNulty and Francie Bellew considerable bother as they squirmed and wriggled their way through tackles.

John McEntee was forced off with concussion soon after his 17th minute strike had put Armagh one point ahead. But that lead was short lived as Dara O'Cinneide once again proved deadly accurate from the dead ball and kicked the Kingdom back in front.

Armagh v Kerry
Armagh's Ronan Clarke attempts to dispossess Seamus Moynihan (© Inpho)

O'Cinneide and Cooper found their range once again as Armagh struggled to contain the tremendous interchange and support on display in the Kerry attack. Needing a goal to fire their confidence, Armagh trundled up field on a rare venture and won a dubious penalty when Oisin McConville became entangled with `keeper Declan O'Keeffe. O'Keeffe, however, came off his line to tip McConville's weak effort around the post.

Undeterred however Armagh emerged a rejuvenated side after the break and took the game to a disheveled Kerry side who had bizarrely left their creativity and fluency in the dressing room. Kerry's stranglehold on midfield loosened as Paul McGrane etched his mark on proceedings and set about hauling Armagh from the mire.

Diarmuid Marsden and McConville pointed either side of another O'Cinneide free. McConville then found the posts from the 45 metre line to put three between the sides midway through the half. It was this period of pressure that ultimately found out Kerry as the Ulster side's determination and drive smothered the indecisiveness of Paidi O'Se's side.

McDonald and Marsden should have found the net after 50 minutes but overplayed the ball and squandered the opportunity. But Armagh's constant bombardment of their opponents full back line would reap rewards four minutes later. McGrane and McConville traded passes in a sweet one-two movement which gifted the later the opportunity to beat O'Keeffe at his near post from close range.

One point down and with the clock ticking into the last 10 minutes Armagh burst forward in search of, at least, an equaliser. Kerry were a destroyed outfit and were unable to resist the pressure from the particularly resolute Ulster champions.

Having buckled, Kerry leaked and lost possession too often. Ronan Clarke capitalised on one such mishap and turned Seamus Moynihan to sink the equalising score. Three minutes later McDonnell, scorer of the opening point, capped off a fine afternoon by pointing Armagh into what would prove an untouchable lead.

The future is bright, it's Orange and White.