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Harps edge out the 'Nab.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Harps edge out the 'Nab. thumbnail Armagh Harps' Eoin Fields under pressure from Ballymacnab's Rory Grugan and Ciaran Connolly during the Senior Football Championship semi-final clash on Friday night.

THIS keenly contested Senior Championship semi-final certainly engaged a surprisingly low crowd of 1,700 with end-to-end competitive football.


Armagh Harps...1-13
Ballymacnab...0-11

There was very little, if any at all, difference between the teams in application, attitude and ambition.

The 'Nab will be disappointed, if not rueful, by their wastefulness while a more economical Harps will be frustrated as they were denied a clutch of goals by the sheer brilliance of Conor McGivern in the 'Nab goals following a string of quality goal stopping saves.

Going into the game the 'Nab were hindered by the loss through injury of Gavin McParland and Brendan Toner and in the game itself the influential Ryan Kennedy having to be substituted which noticeably subdued their team's intensity thereafter.

For their part, Harps' passion, drive and 'will to win' visibly heightened when they had a key player sent off early second half, and the increase in their team play intensity certainly went a long way to help secure a winning result.

The first half, eminently watchable and very entertaining, produced no hint of a likely winner as it was a series of exchanged scores where the lead changed regularly and the sides were level six times.

Harps settle ultra quickly into the game via a 35 second Josh Loughran lead point.

By the 12th minute, it was the 'Nab who showed the greater enterprise to go three-two up via a Rory Grugan close in free and after patient build-up excellent Paul and Ryan Kennedy points.

In between Ultan Lennon landed a Harps' free and Conor McGivern made the first of five excellent saves. The next five minutes saw Harps control play through a Gareth Swift brace (1 free) and Declan McKenna with a Jack Grugan pointed free being the 'Nab's response.

In that time Conor McGivern made another superb point blank save from Ultan Lennon's volley.

By the interval, the sides were level as two excellent long range Rory Grugan points had a close-in pointed Gareth Swift free in between.

In that first half, the 'Nab had switched play and used the width to eke out scores while Harps tended to go through the middle but all too often they veered to the right corner to be turned over five times in the time 'Nab had hit five wides. Six-all at half-time meant it was all to play for in the second half.

The opening 11 minutes of the second half were explosive and tension laden.

In 40 seconds, Josh Loughran's highball was brilliantly caught under the bar by 'keeper Conor McGivern. In the next 10 minutes, Harps raised the tempo to register three points without reply through Tom O'Kane (Charlie Vernon pass) and a Joe McElroy brace (1 free).

In between Gareth Swift was 'red-carded' after which Harps' defence became even more suffocating and a now established three point lead was held to the final whistle.

At 9-6 down, the 'Nab countered with their first scores of the half via an excellent stroked over Rory Grugan brace.

When the 'Nab missed a rare goal chance, the Harps responded with points from Simon Mc- Coy and Declan McKenna (after an excellent penetrative move) to lead 11-8.

Play then became a degree attritional as the time ebbed away. Frees by Rory Grugan and Conor Murphy were exchanged, while a later Brian McCone angled free was answered by a Declan McKenna long range special from a Conor White pass.

In that time, another great Conor McGivern save and 'rushed' three 'Nab wides stopped Harps going six up or wasted the chances of allowing the 'Nab to equalise.

Thus, with five minutes left, Harps led 13-10.

The result was still in melting point. In the last minute of normal time, Rory Grugan patiently worked space for himself to score a quality point. A goal now, in the five minutes of injury time, would secure victory for either side.

One minute later, Joe McElroy set Ultan Lennon on a solo and his cross to Conor Coulter brought a goal-bound volley, a blocking save by Conor McGivern and an accidental knock to the net by an in-rushing 'Nab defender.

Harps were now four ahead and after a minor 'dust-up' three black cards were awarded.

The game became stagnant as both defences closed ever tighter with the only scare relieved by Conor McGivern's timely interception of a forward pass. There were no more scores as Harps edged their way into the final.

Harps know they will have to considerably scale up all aspects of their game in what will be their third final appearance in four years. Their best here were the outstanding Declan McKenna (a county call up possible?), Sean Farry, Rory McGrath and Conor White.

The 'Nab did not use their 'extra man' effectively and were kept 'game solvent' by the superb display of Conor McGivern with Rory Grugan again outstanding both in play and scoring (0-7). Others to shine were Mickey Beagan and Chris Loughran.

Harps' scorers: D McKenna (0-3), G Swift (0-3), J McElroy (0-2), J Loughran, U Lennon, T O'Kane, Simon McCoy, Conor Murphy (0-1 each).

Ballymacnab scorers: R Grugan (0-7), J Grugan, P Kennedy, R Kennedy, B McCone (0-1 each).

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