A watershed game for Armagh.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

THIS competitive and testing game for Armagh could prove to be a 'watershed' as the confidence the win will give them can project them to promotion as well as being the year when Armagh once again are considered a top table team or close to it.


Overall Armagh dominated possession, but there were times they looked vulnerable as a feisty Westmeath came attacking while there were other times, more often then, where Armagh looked sharp and penetrative as they confidently picked off telling scores.

Their game management was spot on and Kieran McGeeney can certainly believe that his defensive unit is strong and effective, his midfield is aggressive, direct and effectively links the team so it operates as one unit, his forward division is pacy, creative, potent and when out of possession, they are able to win ball back like a defensive unit.

Kieran's three years show signs of bearing fruit as Ar ma gh's attacking, fluid and mobile football, whether going forward or having to win the ball back, attacking opponents' goals or attacking the ball when opponents are in possession, is now their modus operandi.

They also have a strong 'squad' mentality rather than a team mentality. It was refreshing to see so many good performances over the course of the game and while the starting team had built the path to victory, it was the subs who came on who powered the team to secure victory.

Stephen Sheridan and Charlie Vernon at midfield were tireless in their efforts to either generate attacks or prevent Westmeath from breaching midfield for dangerous inside attacks.

Ethan Rafferty, Rory Grugan, Aidan Forker were 'Trojan' workhorses, yet they posted 1-12 between them.

Rory Grugan (as captain led from the front), Charlie Vernon, Ryan McShane and Ronan Lappin were so frustrating for Westmeath as they constantly moved up and down the field like the character in the children's Walt Disney cartoon, Roadrunner.

Niall Grimley, who had started the game instead of Andy Murnin, turned in a very competent shift.

The game started with Westmeath looking early on as if the hosts would dominate the game as they breezed into it in 40 seconds with a Ronan O'Toole point.

This was followed soon after by a great left footed point by Luke Loughlin. Dave Whelan came on early for the injured John Egan.

Two-nil down, Armagh at last began to press hard and opened their scoring on the 10th minute via a Rory Grugan free after good approach work by Aidan Forker and Mark Shields.

Play stagnated for some time before sub David Whelan extended the 'home' lead on 20 minutes.

Armagh, as against Sligo in their opening game, went 'route one' and it paid off when after a long ball in broke loose, Ronan Lappin poked the ball to the net.

Visiting points soon added by Rory Grugan and Ethan Rafferty as Armagh built a three point lead.

As before Westmeath would refuse to wilt as centre half back Frankie Boyle bombed forward for a point. A minute later Armagh negated its effect via a Rory Grugan free.

The game remained end-to-end until the interval by which time points had been exchanged by John Heslin (free) and Niall Grimley (free) and this just after Niall's rasping volley had hit a post when a goal looked certain.

Moments earlier, Eoin Carberry had stopped a possible Armagh goal on the line. Half-time arrived with Armagh holding a one goal advantage, 1-5 to 0-5, after a very intense and competitive opening half.

Crucially Armagh held the momentum on the restart as Stephen Sheridan landed an early point which was quickly negated by a John Heslin free.

Scores were again exchanged as a Niall Grimley 'free' was answered by substitute Finbar Coyne in his first touch of the ball in the game. In a four minute spell as the third quarter ended, momentum shifted to Westmeath as they posted three points with Aidan Forker's visitor's point interrupting their run of scores.

Armagh, as the third quarter ended, held a narrow two point lead which Westmeath duly turned over for a one point lead one minute later when James Dolan palmed home a goal after a penetrative 'home' attack.

In the interim Joe McElroy came on to have a positive influence on the game. In a frantic three minute spell, Armagh assumed virtual total control, including two points from Joe McElroy, Armagh won back their lead.

Firstly, Rory Grugan converted a penalty after he himself was fouled and Armagh had regained the lead. Four unanswered points were quickly added through Joe McElroy (2), Aidan Forker and Ethan Rafferty for a confident six point lead at 2-12 to 1-9 with 14 minutes of 'normal time' play to go.

Armagh were now in the ascendancy, and Westmeath would score just twice more with John Heslin and Luke Loughlin posting points in quick succession.

After that the initiative stayed with Armagh for the rest of the game and in a very dominant fashion they added five points at regular intervals without reply.

Those game sealing points came from Rory Grugan (free), Joe McElroy and Ethan Rafferty (3, one huge long ranger, one free, and one close to goals) to leave Armagh confidently in the Division Three pole position.

The next four games either side of the break could prove crucial for possible Armagh as they play the current place teams, Longford and Fermanagh and in between they take on the bottom two teams, Derry and Offaly.

Sunday's win was a convincing and uplifting one for Armagh - a real boost to their confidence - as they were cheered on by their 16th man, that of another loyal and sizeable Armagh support.

Confidence will be higher, yet tempered as they enter those four crucial games.

Well done, Armagh!!

WESTMEATH: E Carberry, M McCallon, K Daly (0-1), B Sayeh, N Mulligan, F Boyle (0-1), J Dolan (1-0), A Stone, J Heslin (0-3 frees), K Martin, R O'Toole (0-1), G Egan, C McCormack (0-1), L Loughlin (0-2), J Egan.

Subs: D Whelan (0-1) for Egan (10), F Coyne (0-1) for Stone (46), C Slevin for Mulligan (57), J Marchment for Whelan (67).

Yellow cards: M McCallon 32, Heslin 35, Mulligan 41, Martin 45.

ARMAGH: B Hughes, P Burns, A McKay, P Shields, N Rowland, G McCabe, M Shields, S Sheridan (0-1, C Vernon, R McShane (0-1), A Forker (0-2), R Lappin (1-0), R Grugan (1-4, 0-2 frees, 1-0 penalty), N Grimley (0-2 frees), E Rafferty (0-6, 0-1 free).

Subs: J McElroy for Rowland (50), B Donaghy for Burns (59), B Crealey for Lappin (59), A Duffy for Shields (66), A Findon for Grimley (70), R Kennedy for Forker (70).

Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).


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