Sports

An early boost for Armagh

Thursday, 8 December 2016

An early boost for Armagh thumbnailThe Armagh team that took on Derry in the O'Fiaich Cup semi-final at Crossmaglen on Sunday afternoon.

ARMAGH received an early season boost with this narrow yet deserved O'Fiaich Cup semi-final win over Derry in Crossmaglen on Sunday.

Armagh ...2-20
Derry ...3-13

Both teams were well short of their 'summer championship' sides and with real competitive intensity missing, the game was a more open affair that might have been expected in mid-summer.

Derry's start team was largely unknown with mid-fielder James Kielt the only recognizable and seasoned name on the team sheet.

For their part, Armagh had three debutants in Oisin O'Neill, Conor White and Ben Crealey, six players who've had a limited experience in the panel and six - Paddy Morrison, Brendan Donaghy, Joe McElroy, Ethan Rafferty, Rory Grugan and Aidan Forker who could expect to be a definite starter this season.

The first 14 minutes saw Armagh dominate possession yet in a multitude of attacks they appeared reluctant to shoot. As a result, by the 14th minute, they had scored only a point from play by Rory Grugan and a pointed free from Ethan Rafferty out of 18 attacks.

The game turned significantly in that 14th minute when Paul Hughes (hand trip) was black carded. Armagh's left side defence looked vulnerable all game after that allowing Derry to score heavily down their right wing.

Two monster long range frees by James Kielt brought the sides level in that moment and Armagh were beginning to regret to 'solid' earlier goals chances, one which saw Pearse Casey's volley hit the foot of a post and rebound straight to a prone goalkeeper.

An insightful Rory Grugan pass allowed Oisin Maciomhair to put Armagh back in front but two snap points in between from Danny Tallon and Jack Doherty gave Derry a first time lead on 20 minutes.

Armagh were still dominating attacks but not dominating with Aiden Forker's hesitancy robbing Armagh of a certain goal.

From this miss, Derry raised their profile considerably and in an eight minute spell they hit a goal and four points without reply - two from Warnock and Loughlin before a Danny Tallon pass saw Barry Grant volleyed an unstoppable shot low to the net.

Following points from Loughlin (free) and Tallon had Derry seven points ahead on the half hour.

Armagh responded positively with Oisin O'Neill pointing a superb brace after good incisive moves and a converted Ethan Rafferty '45' at least had Armagh in a degree of contention at 1-8 to 0-7 down at the interval.

Derry's lead was down to their economy of scoring combined with a wasteful Armagh who should have been well ahead.

Derry restarted having substituted five of their starting forwards, an action, maybe or maybe not, that saw them chasing the game for the rest of the half.

Stefan Campbell introduced at the second half throw-in became the source of an Armagh revival. Within seven minutes and by his orchestration of play, Stefan had pointed between scores from Rory Grugan and Pearse Casey whose fisted point almost produced a goal.

Niall Loughlin's pointed free gave Derry back a two point lead.

It was a short lived respite as Ciaran Higgins came on to give Armagh a second boost. His overlapping play from the centre of defence injected confidence into Armagh's attacking sorties as they plundered five points without reply from Ciaran Higgins (two overlaps), Oisin Maciomhair (2, one from a penetrating Simon McCoy long solo and pass) and Pearse Casey (after Oisin O'Neill's brilliant kick-out catch and pass).

Remarkably these five points had helped claw back that earlier seven point deficit, produce an equalizer and create a lead of three points.

Derry were continuing to exploit Armagh's left side of defence and with players chasing but not catching him, Niall Toner soloed down that left side and with no defender coming to meet him, he volleyed low across goal and found the net via a post.

The sides were back level in an 'all to play for' scenario with 20 minutes to go.

It was Armagh who rose to the occasion as they outscored Derry 2-5 to 1-4 in that final quarter to win by a margin of four.

Armagh's first goal came within a minute of Derry's second. Another majestic kick-out catch by young Oisin O'Neill, a pass to Ethan Rafferty who supplied the overlapping Joe McElroy for a low volley to the bottom corner.

Oisin O'Neill played 'one-two' with Rory Grugan and then converted a long range free.

Despite Stefan Campbell's goal bound fisted effort saved by the 'keeper, Armagh were now four points up again.

Derry were not 'spent' by any means with Niall Loughlin pointing a free.

Armagh lifted again, however, with Aidan Forker pointing from a Ben Crealey pass. A move of quality arrived to help seal the game as Oisin O'Neill, Aidan Forker and Stefan Campbell recycled passes ended with the overlapping Ciaran Higgins 'touching' the ball home to the net.

Armagh were now eight points ahead and looking set for victory.

Derry didn't make victory easy as they forced Armagh to defend and yet their Dean Curran (free), Carl McWilliams (2) point and a well crafted, down Armagh's left, Conor Doherty goal were scores which hadn't hauled back Armagh's lead.

There were two minutes left and Armagh assumed control to bag a great solo Aiden Forker point and an Oisin O'Neill converted free for a deserved four point win.

This win produced encouragement for the future.

Young Oisin O'Neill, man of the match, by his fielding ability, link-up play, passing and scoring ability shows he's a player of the future.

Ciaran Higgins was an influential presence both defending and going forward, Joe McElroy continues to make steady progress and Ben Crealey (second half), suggested he should be persevered with.

Rory Grugan and Stefan Campbell were excellent and endorsed their credibility as county players.

This Sunday week, Armagh will play Tyrone or Louth in the O'Fiaich Cup Final. A win there would be most welcome in Crossmaglen and Armagh!!

Armagh: P Morrison, R McCaughley, B Donaghy, P Hughes, N Rowland, S Heffron, J McElroy (1-0), B Crealey, E Rafferty (0-2), R Grugan (0-2), C White, A Forker (0-2), O O'Neill (0-5), P Casey (0-2), O Maciomhair (0-4).

Subs: R Kearney (g/k), O Lappin, J Hall, C Mackle. Subs used: D McKenna, S McCoy, A Duffy, C Higgins (1-2), S Campbell (0-1), G McParland, S Sheridan.

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