Less turns out to be more for Armagh

 

Armagh 2-8 Kildare 1-10: Judging by the caravan of cars with KE registrations slowly meandering around the old border country yesterday this was a game worthy of a road trip into the unknown.

Assuming they all found their way to Crossmaglen - and that's easier said than done - the game itself took an even stranger course. After a series of sudden and unexpected turns it eventually ended up in the hands of Armagh, leaving them atop Division One B and thus assured of a place in next month's semi-finals.

At least the Kildare supporters had plenty to talk about on the journey home, knowing they would have been no less deserving of the two points.

One could easily write a dissertation on why Kildare should have won. What came against them in the end was that old adage about possession meaning nothing unless it's transferred on to the scoreboard. And there was no doubt Kildare had enough possession throughout to have won.

The problem was they couldn't contain Armagh once they briefly put wings on to their limited possession. Two goals in the first half - a heart-stopper from Paddy McKeever and a hair-raiser from Oisín McConville - gave them an edge when they really deserved to have been several points down.

Then Armagh went the opening 25 minutes of the second half without a score and yet still matched Kildare point for point in the final minutes, and so somehow survived.

It wasn't all doom and gloom in the Kildare dressingroom. Results elsewhere in the division meant they still have an outside chance of making the semi-finals, provided they beat bottom-placed Sligo next Sunday - plus a host of other things going their way.

Yet there wasn't much manager Pádraig Nolan could say about the loss. After a performance like this there is no real difference between a reason and an excuse. Kildare frequently played the better football and the work-rate and commitment were total.

When you hit seven poor wides in the second and almost as many balls into the hands of the opposing goalkeeper you know you only have yourself to blame.

Armagh manager Joe Kernan knows luck was on his side, but it was a typically spirited victory nonetheless. It was also built off an experimental team, with Andrew McCann the only regular defender to start. Francie Bellew started on the bench and Kieran McGeeney stayed there, and while they did threaten to collapse in the second half, there were still something impressive about their survival.

Kernan also knows better than anyone that now is not the time to be playing your best football. Steven McDonnell was certainly a little off the pace and McConville drifted in and out of the game like a satellite. John McEntee was also conspicuously absent for long periods and it was newcomers like defender Paul Duffy and forward Martin O'Rourke who provided some of the high points.

The two goals, however, rose above everything else. On 14 minutes the sides were level at 0-3 piece, but with Kildare pressing forward. Totally against the run of play O'Rourke set up McKeever, and his thundering shot from 20 metres out flew like a bird into the Kildare goal.

Kildare managed two points back from John Doyle and Derek McCormack, but then on 29 minutes Armagh struck back again. Mick Wright had just squandered possession, and McDonnell's ball was played at breakneck speed from McKeever to McConville, who calmly finished the move with goal number two.

By now Kildare's charity towards possession would qualify them for tax exemption. Armagh had looked anything but invincible in that first half and yet enjoyed a seven-point advantage (2-6 to 0-5) as they headed for the isotonic drinks.

Both teams went further off the map in the second half. If Armagh had come out to build on that advantage they had obviously taken a complete detour and wouldn't score again until McConville's point on 60 minutes.

Kildare did manage to get themselves back on track, but only briefly. Doyle converted his second free and on 39 minutes scored the goal that appeared to put Kildare into the driving seat. A ball from substitute Stuart McKenzie Smith looked to be drifting wide, only to be hauled back into play by Tadhg Fennin, and laid on perfectly for Doyle.

That was followed by scores from Eamonn Callaghan and another soaring shot from Doyle, and so Kildare were within a point.

Michael Foley had a great chance of a second Kildare goal but his fisted effort proved a little too feeble. As the clock wore down Kildare's increasing hesitation had finally got the better of them. In the final moments referee Pat Fox appeared to raise a yellow card to one of the Kildare players, but even he seemed to hesitate - and they got away without making the substitution.

ARMAGH: C McKinney; P Duffy, J McNulty, P McCormack; JP Donnelly, C McKeever, A McCann; J Toal, P McGrane; P McKeever (1-0), J McEntee (0-1), M Mackin; S McDonnell (0-3, one free, one 45), O McConville (1-3, one free), M O'Rourke (0-1).Subs: A O'Rourke for Donnelly (22 mins), F Bellew for McCormack (56 mins, yellow card).

KILDARE: E Murphy; A Rainbow, D Hendy, A McLoughlin; M Wright, G Ryan, K Ennis; K Brennan, M Foley; E Callaghan (0-1), D McCormack (0-1), R Sweeney; T Fennin (0-3, all frees), R Glavin, J Doyle (1-5, two frees). Subs: S McKenzie Smith for Glavin (half time), P Mullarkey for Foley (57 mins).

YELLOW CARDS: Armagh - P McCormack (56 mins).

Referee: P Fox (Westmeath).