Armagh make winning return to top flight against Monaghan

Monaghan introduced Conor McManus for second half but Armagh finished stronger

Armagh’s Rian O’Neill during his team’s win over Monaghan. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Monaghan 1-12 Armagh 1-16

Armagh made a winning return to Division One of the National Football League after a nine-year wait when they got the better of Monaghan in Enniskillen. Armagh raced into a six-point lead after finding the net from a penalty from the first attack and never trailed thereafter.

A Seán Jones goal on 13 minutes kick-started a rally by Monaghan and the sides were level six times during the third quarter, but Armagh kicked five of the game’s last six scores.

Kieran McGeeney, with his new backroom team now featuring Ciarán McKeever and Kerry All-Ireland winner Kieran Donaghy, will be delighted to secure a winning start in the all-Ulster section of the top flight. Monaghan, who had to give up home advantage for this game due to a training breach that also earned manager Séamus McEnaney a 12-week suspension, will be pleased with the efforts of some of their young forwards, particularly Aaron Mulligan, but this first-round defeat leaves them urgently needing points to preserve their Division One status.


Monaghan's interim manager David McCague, who took charge of the side along with Dónie Buckley and Vinnie Corey, acknowledged: "We had to play a bit of catch-up from early on and worked very hard and expended a lot of energy in closing that gap, so maybe that caught up with us near the end."

Armagh got off to a flying start as Stefan Campbell tucked away a penalty just a minute into the game after Monaghan failed to deal with a high ball in, before a brace of points by Rory Grugan and a Rian O'Neill '45 doubled their lead to six. Monaghan urgently needed a lift and after Rory Beggan opened their account, debutant Jones linked up with Andrew Woods to fire to the net to bring them within two.

Mulligan, Stephen O'Hanlon and Mícheál Bannigan all added their names to the scoresheet for Monaghan during the second quarter, but Aidan Forker arrived from deep to good effect to kick a brace of points for Armagh, either side of another Grugan free, to leave McGeeney's side up by 1-6 to 1-5 at half-time.

Monaghan had their own penalty claim late in the half when Jones was hauled down after picking off a short Blain Hughes kick-out, but somehow a free was the only censure for the foul.

Monaghan introduced some experienced campaigners for the second half and Conor McManus quickly made his presence felt with an equalising point, only for Forker to respond. The scores began to flow at either end, with Monaghan drawing level on a few occasions through Mulligan, O’Hanlon and McManus, but Armagh, crucially, were able to hit back each time via Campbell, Oisín O’Neill and Grugan.

A couple of well-taken scores by Mulligan kept Monaghan in touch, but Conor Turbitt, Rian O'Neill and Grugan nudged Armagh towards the finish line. Bannigan made it a two-point game with Monaghan's only score of the final quarter, but Armagh shut up shop and the impressive Grugan kicked his sixth point before Rian O'Neill added the insurance score in added time.

Monaghan had a chance of a late consolation goal when Woods burst through the cover, but Ryan McAnespie's palmed effort hit the side-netting as their wides tally reached double figures and they lost Kieran Hughes to a black card in the final seconds.

Monaghan are away to Donegal in round two, while Armagh will be chasing a second win in the space of a week when they host Tyrone.

MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-1 free); K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O'Connell, D Ward, R McAnespie; N Kearns, K Lavelle; C McCarthy, A Mulligan (0-5, 0-3 frees), M Bannigan (0-2, 0-1 free); S Jones (1-0), A Woods, S O'Hanlon (0-2). Subs: D Hughes for Kearns, C McManus (0-2, 1 free, 1 mark) for McCarthy (both half-time); K Hughes for Jones (46 mins); F Kelly for Lavelle (56); B McBennett for Bannigan; K McMenamin for Boyle (both 68).

ARMAGH: B Hughes; J Morgan, C Mackin, A Forker (0-3); G McCabe; A McKay, R Kennedy; N Grimley, R O'Neill (0-3, 1 '45); J Hall, C O'Hanlon, J Óg Burns; R Grugan (0-6, 0-3 frees), S Campbell (1-1, 1-0 pen), O O'Neill (0-1). Subs: R McQuillan for Burns, C Turbitt (0-2) for McCabe (both h-t); J Duffy for Forker (56); P Hughes for O'Hanlon (62), T Kelly for Hall (69).

Referee: C Branagan (Down).