Monaghan 1-12 Armagh 1-14
Armagh made a winning start to the Allianz NFL for the third time in a row since their return to Division One when they held off a late charge from Monaghan in a topsy-turvy derby in front of a sell-out crowd at Castleblayney on Saturday night.
Some wasteful finishing saw Armagh convert just over a quarter of their scoring chances in the first half, but they found their shooting boots in a strong start to the second half that put them in the driving seat. Monaghan worked their way back into contention, but a brace of inspirational points from Stefan Campbell helped guide Armagh to a hard-earned win.
It was perhaps inevitable that goalkeepers would be prominent in a game featuring Rory Beggan and Ethan Rafferty, but neither No 1 will be adding the goals from this one to their highlight reel. Tiernan Kelly pinched a Beggan kick-out to find a gaping net for Armagh, while Rafferty had to concede a penalty after one of his own restarts had been cut out.
Both goalkeepers were also on the scoresheet, however, with Rafferty’s effort coming from open play and helping to give Armagh a foothold in the game after they had endured a lengthy wait for their second point.
Monaghan were 0-4 to 0-1 ahead by then, via Mícheál Bannigan, Dessie Ward and Beggan, but Kelly’s goal turned things in favour of Kieran McGeeney’s side. Rían O’Neill and Rory Grugan were also on target as Armagh moved ahead for the first time, but Stephen O’Hanlon, Seán Jones and Conor McCarthy helped Monaghan change ends on level terms at 0-7 to 1-4.
The game hinged on a high-octane start to the second half by Armagh, who penned the home side into their own half by winning six consecutive kick-outs and converting their possession into five points (three from forward marks). O’Neill, Stephen Sheridan, Andrew Murnin and Aidan Nugent were all on target during this purple patch that put the Orchard County in command.
Already starting minus some of their most experienced players, Monaghan suffered another setback early on when All Star nominee Jack McCarron limped off, but they slowly regrouped and after almost going scoreless through the third quarter, they hit a quick burst of 1-1 from Conor McCarthy, the goal from a penalty.
As the stakes rose, so did the tempo of the game, if not the quality, with turnovers becoming more frequent and the crowd volume increasing. Points from O’Hanlon and Bannigan, either side of an O’Neill free, inched Monaghan closer, but Campbell stepped up with two big scores to keep them at bay. Bannigan and Shane Carey were on target as Monaghan kept going, but Ross McQuillan fisted over at the end of a storming run to ensure that Armagh made the short journey home with two points on the board.
Armagh host Mayo in round two, while Monaghan travel to Killarney to take on All-Ireland champions Kerry.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-1, free); T McPhillips, K Duffy (capt), R Wylie; K Loughran, C Boyle, C Lennon; K Lavelle, D Ward (0-1); J Wilson, M Bannigan (0-4, one free), S O’Hanlon (0-2); S Carey (0-1), C McCarthy (1-2, 1-0 pen, two frees), J McCarron.
Subs: S Jones (0-1) for McCarron (2 mins, inj); K O’Connell for Lennon (h-t); K Gallagher for Wilson (51); S Slevin for Loughran (70).
ARMAGH: E Rafferty (0-1); A McKay, A Forker, R Finn; C O’Neill, B McCambridge, J Óg Burns; S Sheridan (0-1, mark), S Campbell (0-2); J Hall, R Grugan (0-1, free), T Kelly (1-0); R O’Neill (jt capt) (0-5, two marks, one free), A Murnin (0-1), A Nugent (jt capt) (0-2).
Subs: J Duffy for Hall (h-t); N Grimley for Sheridan (58); R McQuillan (0-1) for Murnin (64).
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).