Quarter-final with everything leaves Armagh with nothing as Galway progress

Galway reach All-Ireland semi-final after first Croke Park championship penalty shootout

Galway 1-21 Armagh 3-18

[after extra time; Galway won 4-1 on penalties]

Where do you start? This most tumultuous All-Ireland quarter-final, probably ever, featured so many extraordinary elements: the first penalty shootout at such an advanced stage, another depressing free-for-all, as the teams came off after the end of normal time and a match that ebbed and flowed with more perspiration than inspiration.

But let’s begin at the end. Galway’s dedication to practising penalties since it became clear at the turn of this year that shootouts would be deciding championship matches that remained level after extra time, paid off.

Their impressive full-forward line of Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Rob Finnerty all iced their kicks and by the time Matthew Tierney converted the fourth there was no need for any further penalties.

Armagh managed one from three – Rian O’Neill’s well hit second but Stefan Campbell – cruel reward for a good overall display – and Conor Tubritt were wide.

Given the opposition ‘keeper Conor Gleeson’s travails under high ball, maybe the Ulster team might have been better off kicking the penalties in the air and letting the ball steeple down on goal.

Connacht champions Galway accordingly head for an All-Ireland semi-final against Ulster counterparts, Derry in just under two weeks. Manager Pádraic Joyce looked shattered afterwards and was highly critical of the means of resolution but it certainly beat the alternative.

Had his team managed to lose after leading by six points in injury-time (allowing for the length of it – nearly 10 minutes), it would have broken all records for Croke Park traumas even by the county’s daunting standards.

The frantic finale in injury-time began after Kieran Molloy had put Galway 1-16 to 0-13 ahead. A minute later Rory Grugan dropped in a ball on goal and with Ben Crealey challenging Conor Gleeson in the Galway goal, Aidan Nugent was able to bundle it home.

Comer stretched the lead but four behind and energised by their huge and voluble support, Armagh came for a second goal. If the first had been evidence that the Galway square wasn’t exactly Fort Knox, the second was Opportunity Knocks.

Rian O’Neill took a mark near goal and flashed a fisted pass across goal. It looked a poor choice when Gleeson grabbed it shovelled the ball away hurriedly for replacement Conor Turbitt to drive it into the net: 1-17 to 2-13.

Shane Walsh had a chance to put it to bed when counter-attacking with the seconds slipping away but he went for an artistic cross-field pass, which was picked off by Armagh, whose last assault yielded a free more than 45 metres out on the Cusack side. O’Neill landed an exceptional kick and referee David Coldrick blew for full time almost immediately.

The fracas developed at the entry to the Cusack side dressing-rooms. Television pictures appeared to show Comer being gouged by one of the extended Armagh panel. All hell broke loose and by the time the teams had been brought back inside, Coldrick, who hadn’t had his sharpest day at the office, was confabbing with GAA officials.

The action taken was a red card for a player from each side. Galway captain Seán Kelly was one and Armagh joint-captain Aidan Nugent were dismissed before extra time began. It’s a peculiarity of the GAA rulebook that both could be replaced for extra-time.

Already Armagh had lost centre back Greg McCabe in the 62nd minute for a head-high challenge on Tierney. They should also have been without James Morgan whose enthusiasm for wrestling Shane Walsh and clattering into him off the ball miraculously failed to draw further punishment than one yellow card.

The match had opened with Armagh looking like they were going to clean up. Galway’s attacks were laboured and unproductive whereas Kieran McGeeney’s team attacked with the sharpness on display in the defeat of Donegal a fortnight previously.

It probably didn’t help the Connacht champions that they hadn’t played for a month and the time it took to find their rhythm was similar to Dublin’s on Saturday night.

Once they did their forwards clicked quite satisfactorily. All scored from play and they had reeled Armagh back by half-time, 0-7 each. Key performance indicators revealed an equal contest although the Galway were in more bother on their long kick-outs but both teams were low on wides.

Galway did get the first goal, just after Finnerty had given them the lead for the first time. Tierney’s run through the middle gave him a shooting chance that came off the crossbar. Dylan McHugh got to the rebound, recycled to Tierney who set it up for frequent goal scorer Johnny Heaney to be in the right place to palm the ball to the net.

They built a lead steadily and if neither team looked overly ambitious about pushing attacks into goal scoring opportunities, there was accuracy in the point shooting.

Not that goals were lacking and in extra time there were two more, both of which looked to have changed the course of the match: O’Neill’s high ball in the 81st minute ended with Grugan punching Armagh 3-16 to 1-20 in front whereas a few minutes later the excellent and indefatigable Cillian McDaid arrived like an express train to ram home Galway’s second after Billy Mannion had picked out his run.

Finally after Jemar Hall had given Armagh a late lead, McDaid again came to the rescue, kicking the equaliser in the 91st minute but the drama was far from over.

GALWAY: C Gleeson; L Silke, S Kelly (capt), J Glynn; D McHugh, J Daly, K Molloy (0-1); P Conroy (0-1), C McDaid (1-2); P Kelly (0-1), M Tierney (0-2), J Heaney (1-0); R Finnerty (0-4), D Comer (0-3), S Walsh (0-6, give frees).

Subs: F Ó Laoí (0-1) for P Kelly (69 mins), N Daly for Tierney (74 mins), O Gallagher for Walsh (79 mins), S Walsh for Gallagher (extra-time). R Finnerty for Daly (extra time), B Mannion for S Kelly (extra time), O Gallagher for Heaney (83 mins), J Foley for Silke (84 mins), C Sweeney for McHugh (90 mins).

ARMAGH: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, A McKay; S Sheridan, G McCabe, J Óg Burns (0-1); B Crealey, S Campbell (0-3); C O’Neill (0-1). A Murnin, J Duffy; A Nugent (1-2, one mark), R O’Neill (0-4, three frees), R Grugan (1-3, 2f).

Subs: C Tubritt (1-1) for Murnin (44 mins), Conaire Mackin for Duffy (44 mins), Ciaran Mackin for McKay (55 mins), E Woods (0-1) for Duffy (68 mins), J Kieran (0-1) for Burns (68 mins), N Rowland for McCabe (extra time), J Burns for Nugent (extra time), M Shields for Forker (75 mins), J Duffy for Crealey (85 mins), J Hall (0-1) for Grugan (87 mins).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times