Tide may be turning for Armagh after best display under Kieran McGeeney sees off Louth
Allianz National Football League Division Three:
Louth 0-11 Armagh 3-15
From Brendan Crossan in Drogheda
TWO red cards, more yellows than anyone in the Gaelic Grounds could count, a few shameless off-the-balls wrestling matches – and arguably Armagh’s best display under Kieran McGeeney.
After annihilating Offaly a fortnight ago and inflicting a first Allianz League defeat of the season on their hosts yesterday, perhaps the tide is turning in the Orchard County.
With two games still to play in Division Three – both at home to Antrim and Tipperary – Armagh have put themselves in the frame for promotion.
And if they can replicate yesterday’s form over the next couple of games, nobody will stop them from moving up another crucial rung in the Allianz Leagues.
For those long-suffering Armagh fans that made the relatively short journey to Drogheda yesterday, they got a glowing snapshot of what the future looks like.
They pulverised Louth from start to finish.
The visitors defended expertly at times – conceding just seven points from play, of which a couple were mere consolations in the dying embers – they attacked with great confidence and they met and won the physical battle in every area of the field.
A couple of early slip-ups in the division meant that yesterday’s encounter was a must-win for Armagh.
They did, however, have to absorb the ridiculously early sending-off of Aidan Forker – just over a minute on the clock - before Louth defender Anthony Williams was red-carded nine minutes later.
Forker’s sending-off for striking seemed desperately harsh.
While in possession along the stand side, the Maghery clubman tried to make space for himself but his hand-off appeared to catch Derek Maguire near the face.
From the press box it looked completely innocuous rather than cynical or violent conduct.
But, after a brief consultation with his linesman, referee Ciaran Branagan flashed a red card and Forker was gone.
“Aidan Forker was very unfortunate,” said McGeeney afterwards.
“The ref says he didn’t see it but Aidan’s in possession of the ball and the linesman seen it.
“I know the hand struck but he was just trying to push him back like everybody does.
“I thought it was a harsh decision. He did hit him on the head, there is no doubt about that, but reputations precede a lot of players.”
Referring to the previous night’s feisty clash between Kerry and Dublin, the Armagh manager added: “You know, if we look at last night [Kerry versus Dublin], if some teams play it, ‘it’s manly and that’s the way it should be played.’
“Manly and robust, I think, were the words they used. But yet, when other teams use it from further north it seems to be ‘thuggish’ and ‘bad behaviour’.
“It’s very disappointing for Aidan. He would have known he was stupid against Laois [when he was also sent off], but I don’t think he should have been sent off today.”
Nine minutes later, Louth were reduced to 14 men after an off-the-ball incident involving Williams and Niall Grimley.
Louth boss Colin Kelly, who was mourning the death of his mother on Friday, was less sympathetic towards his player for getting sent off.
“I spoke to him [Williams] at half-time and I told him it was indiscipline,” said Kelly.
“He’s been one of our better performers since I’ve been involved but we’ve spoken about the need in not getting involved in silly stuff.”
Kelly, though, didn’t mince his words when discussing the performance of the match official.
“You can’t talk about referees but we’ve experienced this man before in the same fixture a couple of years ago and all the Louth people know what happened that night,” he said.
“So I didn’t have too much faith in seeing out the 70 minutes without someone getting the line. But once you put yourself in that situation you run the risk of getting sent off.”
Of course, it would be an injustice to focus on the two red cards and the nine yellow cards that followed given Armagh’s imperious performance.
Led by the excellent Rory Grugan, Armagh remained super composed after Forker’s dismissal.
They hit 1-3 – all from play – without reply in the opening quarter of an hour.
Niall Rowland, Grugan and Anto Duffy combined to set up makeshift full-forward and the ever-resourceful Ciaran McKeever for Armagh’s opening goal after 10 minutes.
McKeever showed great feet to slot home from close range.
Rowland may have been a bit loose on curtailing the lively threat of Louth’s Pauric Smith but the Culloville man’s desire to gamble and get forward paid dividends when he fired into the roof of the net on 15 minutes that put the visitors 2-3 to 0-1 ahead.
While Armagh were without Stefan Campbell and Andy Murnin in attack, Louth sorely missed the attacking threat of Andy McDonnell and Jim McEneaney.
Still, deputy Ryan Burns hit three first half points to put some respectability on the scoreboard as Armagh carried a 2-5 to 0-6 lead in at the break.
Inspired by Stephen Sheridan, Paul Hughes, Grugan and Niall Grimley, the Orchard men never dropped the pace and hit the first three scores of the second half.
Jamie Clarke finally escaped the clutches of Padraig Rath to find his range three times between the 44th and 54th minutes.
And while they weren’t depending on a third major to wrap up this tie, the Crossmaglen ace slotted home in the 67th minute to put the visitors 3-12 to 0-10 ahead.
Asked if he found Armagh a step-up in class from previous opponents, Kelly responded: “I think that’s an injustice to the opposition that we’ve played. I think that’s a crazy question, to be honest with you.
“They were a step-up today but they’re in Division Three the same as us.
“I wouldn’t be jumping up and down about them winning Ulster titles or whatever. For 70 minutes they were better than Louth. That’s a fact.”
While praising the simplicity with which Armagh played yesterday, McGeeney was quick acknowledge Kelly’s loss of his mother just 48 hours before the game.
“It’s been a tough few days for Colin and his family,” said the Armagh boss. “I’m sure it was hard to come here and get involved in a game.”
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 (h/t), 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)