Sports

In-form Armagh poised for promotion

Thursday, 23 March 2017

THREE wins on the trot, highest scorers in their division and a vastly superior score difference over the rest, not only dispels the gloomy feeling of the first two league game but leaves Armagh poised to gain promotion via their own hands.

Louth ...0-11
Armagh ...3-15

Their win over Louth was emphatic and truly inspiring given that Armagh were 'short' regulars and still comprehensively defeated the previous undefeated league holders on their home pitch.

With previously injured players like Ciaran McKeever, Brendan Donaghy and James Morgan coming back to add experience, maturity and know-how to the team, the increasingly quality performances of young 'new' blood players like Stephen Sheridan, Niall Grimley and Ben Crealey is establishing enthusiasm, drive and a solid will to win throughout the squad.

Early penetrative 'advantage' ball passes to the front coupled with a well marshalled structured and co-ordinated defensive set up allowing for rapid progress through the transition zone are now a standard feature of Armagh's play.

The outstanding performances of the last three games added to the strength of the current squad sees them as potentially the best team in this division and, dare I say it, if their form continues, sees them as a team too good for this division. The challenge for Kieran McGeeney is not in coping with opponents but more in maintaining their momentum that they have generated for the foreseeable future.

The loss of three regular starters pre-game did not seem to affect the attitudes of the players and the subsequent early sending off of Aidan Forker certainly did not perturb them and may in fact have made them stronger. The quickly following sending off of a Louth player was seen by Armagh as a chance to play on equal terms rather than a 'god-send'.

In fact, the game looked over as early as the 12th minute at 1-3 to nil and they endorsed that impression by never being behind in the game, with the lowest margin of their lead being five points.

The first 12 minutes of the game helped shape the course of the game. Within that time both teams had a man sent off - Aidan Forker (2 mins), and Anthony Williams (11 mins). The effect on Armagh's team was stark. They re-grouped quickly with their adjusted 'shape' having little impact on how they were to play.

They became steeled and energized for a half which did become tetchy and attritional - Armagh, in short, were focused whereas Louth became increasingly disjointed by both sendings off.

The result was that Armagh were doing the simple things well whereas Louth had no pattern to their game and really no direction either.

Twelve minutes in, Armagh were 1-3 to nil ahead. Rory Grugan (again an immense contribution), Stephen Sheridan, Niall Grimley and Kieran McKeever (relishing in his full forward role) were the creative influences behind Armagh's lightning scoring phase.

Rory Grugan opened the game's scoring on six minutes and a sublime move four minutes later saw Niall Grimley, Rory Grugan and Anto Duffy deftly move the ball forward for Kieran McKeever to volley to the net. The game was now '14v14' and points were landed by Niall Grimley and the overlapping Paul Hughes after good work by Stephen Sheridan.

Armagh began to ease up within their dominance as Paraic Smith landed Louth's first score. Armagh retaliation was swift and decisive as Jamie Clarke fed the marauding Niall Rowland for a vicious volley to the roof of the net. Eight points up meant Armagh would be hard to overhaul. As Armagh ticked over, Louth landed three points in the next 12 minutes through Ryan Byrne (two frees) and Paraic Smith. A Rory Grugan curler in between those points maintained Armagh's grip on the game via a six point lead.

There followed a 10 minute period in which Armagh were the only team to score after Rory Grugan converted a free after a foul on the now influential sub, Ben Crealey.

Louth rushed five wides from distance as Armagh denied them close range access. Either side of the interval, a recovering Louth landed a brace of points through Paraic Smith and a 45m from Ryan Byrne after Charlie Vernon blocked away a goal-bound volley from Smith. Five points up at the interval Armagh looked comfortable and not complacent.

The Orchard displayed their firm winning intention inside the opening four minutes of the second half as Kieran McKeever supplied Stephen Sheridan for a point after 30 seconds. Two excellently converted testing frees were landed by Niall Grimley soon after.

There was a slight lull after Jamie Clarke exchanged with Tommy Dornan but as the game entered the final quarter, a flurry of 'put this game to bed' attacks saw a brace of Jamie Clarke points together with one from Rory Grugan give Armagh what looked like an unassailable 11 point lead with 15 minutes to go.

Armagh seemed to go to bed themselves for a period allowing a Louth team, who had played second fiddle all game, to spark to life and land three points through Tommy Dornan, Ryan Byrne (free) and Gerard McSorley inside a two minute spell.

The spectre of the opening two games' collapse occupied some minds but not in the team. Their thinking was 'time to close this one out'. An opening was worked for Anto Duffy but as he steadied to volley to the net he was fouled.

Jamie Clarke converted the resultant penalty with Niall Grimley's brace and a further Gavin McParland point emphatically securing victory leaving Louth's Conal McKeever to post a consolation point in injury time.

A deserved victory, an uplifting victory but that's where it ends. Two victories to come is the only scenario that will guarantee promotion.

A great all round display by Armagh was graced by superb performances from the imperious Rory Grugan, Brendan Donaghy, Niall Grimley, Stephen Sheridan and Kieran McKeever.

It was great to have James Morgan back on the pitch and the feel good factor is back in Armagh with a large travelling support adding to the positive attitude abroad in the county.

Louth: C Lynch, P Rath, P Reilly, K Carr, D Maguire, J Bingham, A Williams, T Durnin (0-2), D Byrne, J Stewart, P Smith (0-3), B Duffy, R Moore, E O'Connor, R Burns (0-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 '45'). Subs: A Reid for R Moore (21), G McSorley (0-1) for J Bingham (44), C McKeever (0-1) for E O'Connor (55), K Murphy for K Carr (67), R Holcroft for R Burns (72). Yellow cards: E O'Connor (55), T Durnin (57), D Maguire (59). Red cards: A Williams (11).

Armagh: B Hughes, G McCabe, C Vernon, P Hughes (0-1), N Rowland (1-0), B Donaghy, A McKay, S Sheridan (0-1), A Findon, R Grugan (0-4, 0-1 free), A Duffy, N Grimley (0-5, 0-3 frees), J Clarke (1-3, 1-0 pen), C McKeever (1-0), A Forker. Subs: B Crealey for A Findon (27), J Morgan for G McCabe (ht), S Heffron for N Rowland (59), C O'Hanlon for A Duffy (66), G McParland (0-1) for C McKeever (67), N McConville for R Grugan (71). Yellow cards: G McCabe (19), B Donaghy (43), C Vernon (51), R Grugan (56), N Rowland (57), J Clarke (73). Red cards: A Forker (2).

Referee: C Branagan (Down).

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