Armagh seize the moment against Galway to reach All-Ireland quarter-final

Galway worked hard to take control of the game only to see it evaporate in four calamitous minutes

Matthew Tierney of Galway skips away from Armagh's Rian O'Neill during the All-Ireland SFC Round 3 game at Markievicz Park in Sligo. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho
All-Ireland SFC Group 1, Round 3: Galway 0-15 Armagh 1-12

It has been hard to slip a bus ticket between these teams in the past three seasons and so it remained. Stefan Campbell’s fisted point tied up this Group One finale in the fourth minute of injury-time but judged by reactions, Armagh had won.

The point left the Ulster team level with Galway at the top of the table but crucially ahead on scoring difference and with the plum outcome of automatic progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

For manager Kieran McGeeney, it was an excellent result and he indignantly responded to the suggestion that his team had got out of jail. If he got caught in a match like this – losing a five-point lead – it would be his fault and now his team had authored the revival.

“You’re going to have to make up your mind. It can’t be both! The boys had a purple patch and made the most of it. Every team has them, whether it’s in the first five minutes or the last five. Credit to them when the purple patch came, they did well so very happy for them.

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“Galway are a big team. Connacht football’s hard-hitting, like not dirty, but their whole half-forward line is 6′ 4″; they’re big boys. It was a hard-hitting game. There wasn’t too many whistles blown. You know you’re going to get that when you play a Connacht team.”

Credit was due in that Armagh seized the chances to wipe out the consequences of being second-best for so long. Their barrage of 1-3 in four minutes turned around Galway’s painstakingly assembled lead and turned the last 10 minutes into a free-for-all.

It was a madly frustrating result for the Connacht champions, who had controlled the match for nearly an hour. Playing against the wind, they held possession and defended well – they would concede just one kickable free all afternoon – finding their scoring touch as the half wore on.

Accurate finishing from Rob Finnerty’s frees and a couple of quality strikes by the closely watched Shane Walsh contributed to an 0-8 to 0-6 half-time lead.

That initiative was maintained in the third quarter with their physically imposing centrefield. John Maher was relentless, the half forwards taking the ball through the middle and half backs Dylan McHugh, especially, and Liam Silke cutting loose on fast breaks stitched together by slick hand passing.

It was Silke who put them five ahead, 0-13 to 0-8, in the 54th minute. The match looked as complete and filed as last year’s tax returns.

Armagh's Tiernan Kelly breaks past Galway goalkeeper Connor Gleeson to score a goal during the game in Sligo. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Galway’s angst came from the self-inflicted nature of the spilled opportunity. When well on top, the potentially concerning drop-off in their conversion rate – Finnerty fisted a ball that bounced off the top of the crossbar and came out and shots were missed and dropped short – didn’t seem to matter.

We were in the 58th minute when Armagh belatedly got on the board with a Conor Turbitt free, 14 minutes after their previous score.

From the kick-out, Connor Gleeson got picked off by the impressive Turbitt who raced in and provided a goal assist for Tiernan Kelly.

The always dangerous Rian O’Neill, who finished with 0-3 from play, then shot the equaliser before Gleeson’s restart again got hacked and Kelly was able to reciprocate with an assist for Turbitt’s point, which put the Ulster finalists ahead, 1-11 to 0-13.

To be fair to Galway, they rallied in the teeth of the setbacks. With momentum hurtling against them, and the memory of last year’s defeat in this fixture and how it cost them a quarter-final place, they steadied the ship. Walsh kicked a free to equalise.

The benches had made an impact. Campbell added presence to Armagh’s attack in the second half and when the match was in the melting pot, Cathal Sweeney brought urgency to Galway’s resistance. His turnover of possession renewed the team’s attack and he then got fouled for Walsh to kick a free from just inside the 45-metre line.

A chance to win fell to Tomo Culhane but he was wide. With a minute left, Armagh had to make the attack count and they did.

Galway manager Pádraic Joyce was disappointed but not unhappy with his team’s display.

“Overall pleased enough with how the lads played – a monumental first-half performance. Played really, really well, controlled the ball, controlled the game but in these games against better teams, you have to take your chances and we just didn’t in the second half.

“We scored 15 shots out of 30 attempts. That is the bottom line. It is not a high enough conversion enough to have. We have to take it on the chin and move on. They are disappointed. We’ll have to lift them up and get ready for the preliminary quarter-final next Sunday or whenever it is on.”

GALWAY: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Fitzgerald, J Glynn; D McHugh (0-1), L Silke (0-1), S Mulkerrin; P Conroy (0-2), J Maher (0-1); C D’Arcy, S Kelly (capt), C McDaid (0-1); R Finnerty (0-3, 2f), M Tierney (0-1), S Walsh (0-5, 3f).

Subs: J Daly for Mulkerrin (48 mins); C Sweeney for McDaid (54); J Heaney for Kelly (61); D O’Flaherty for D’Arcy (62); T Culhane for Finnerty (70).

ARMAGH: B Hughes; B McCambridge, A McKay, C Higgins; A Forker, N Grimley, J McElroy; B Crealey (0-1), R O’Neill (0-3); P McGrane, T Kelly (1-1), O Conaty; R Grugan, A Murnin (0-2), C Turbitt (0-4, 1f).

Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Higgins (h-t); R McQuillan for Conaty (48 mins); A Nugent for Forker (54); O O’Neill (0-1) for McGrane (65).

Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times