GAA Football

Kevin Madden: Antrim, Armagh, Derry and Fermanagh all left smarting following a perilous final day of Allianz Football League

Derry players are despondent after news of Down's late equalising point in Cork confirms their relegation despite their final day win over Fermanagh Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

FROM ecstasy to agony. Those four words on the back of Monday's Irish News pretty much sum up the emotions felt in Antrim, Armagh, Derry and Fermanagh on Sunday afternoon at exactly 4pm.

It's difficult to decide what was actually the most dramatic moment of the weekend. Certainly the way Armagh completely imploded and were left flattened by a sucker punch from Michael Quinlivan takes some beating. Cruising into Division Two with only moments left, they coughed up a comfortable lead and not for the first time in this campaign. Armagh will feel they got rough justice from the referee, both in the free that led to the goal and the amount of injury-time played. But in truth the game could and should have been over – just in the same way the Sligo and Laois fixtures should have been put to bed.

That inability to close out a game must be very worrying for Kieran McGeeney and hugely disappointing that it has cost them promotion back to a higher standard of football.

As they enter Championship mode, the Orchard County supporters are surely scratching their heads wondering who the real Armagh are.

Are they the side who demolished Offaly by 30 points, Louth by 13 or are they the team who struggled to beat Antrim and Longford, and crucially threw away five points in three other ties they were winning comfortably?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but unless they can match that brilliance with some steely consistency, a team of lesser ability could nip them later in the year.

At the opposite end of the table there was heartbreak of a different kind as, entering

injury-time a point up, it seemed Antrim would retain their Division Three status.

Longford were down to 13 men and the opportunity was there to kick on. But the Saffrons also fell on the sword of inexperience by not assuming control and taking the game to Longford.

As an Antrim man, it was a tough one to take as, bar one bad day at the office in Offaly, a very young team, almost completely devoid of previous inter-county experience, performed very well throughout the League.

On Sunday, between starting berths and subs coming on, Antrim had up to 12 or 13 players who hadn't featured before this year. A return to the basement division is a step backwards,

but it is encouraging to see a group of committed players

who all want to play for their county and fight hard for one another.

As long as the Saffrons stay true to this approach then a return to Division Three will happen in 2018 and foundations can be laid to ensure they move away from being a yo-yo team.

‘The Great Escape' by Down was more of an agony to ecstasy moment that completely turned Division Two on its head.

Not only will it be remembered as a day that the Mournemen gained redemption, but equally that one score by Jerome Johnston was enough to condemn the Oak Leafers to Division Three. Six weeks ago, Down were in complete turmoil and even the most optimistic of supporters were expecting automatic relegation.

This was a massive lift for boss Eamonn Burns and his players ahead of Championship.

The moments immediately after the game in Enniskillen were certainly the most visually dramatic of the weekend. They say lightning never strikes twice, but for Derry that's exactly what happened on Sunday.

I remember when I was Derry trainer in 2010 we played Galway in our last League game in a scorching Salthill one Sunday afternoon.

The permutations were mind boggling as Derry sat on two points with Tyrone and Monaghan each on four points.

To escape relegation, Derry needed to win the last game by a few scores, and hope that Tyrone got beat by Dublin, and that Monaghan would lose by a good few to Mayo.

Even though Monaghan had beaten us earlier in the League, we were aware that, in the event of three teams being tied on four points, the head-to-head outcome was superseded by scoring difference.

As our game entered injury-time, we got word through that Tyrone were well beaten and Monaghan were losing by five with only seconds remaining.

I remember it well. Three points up, Derry won a free from just outside the 45. I got word to Mark Lynch to go for it because, mathematically, a single point would keep his team in Division One.

You talk about pressure. It was one of those moments that can define people's perception of just how big a man's cojones actually are.

Big Lynch stepped up and he delivered a monster score that made me believe he had no problems on that front.

The referee blew the final whistle and we all jumped around like we had won the Ulster Championship.

Seconds later we got word that Monaghan also scored late in injury-time, so with both teams now level on scoring difference Derry were actually relegated. I'm not sure what was worse – the embarrassment of our celebrations or the dejection of relegation.

In truth, Derry almost got out of jail this season, but throughout the League they leaked too many scores. 5-15 to Galway and 3-15 to Meath the most glaring, but in total they shipped 20 points or more in four of their ties.

In the cold light of day, Fermanagh were probably equally as sick about being relegated. After all, the Ernesiders were in control of their own destiny and had victory well within their grasp.

They too will have gripes with one or two questionable refereeing decisions.


AFTER announcing his retirement, Colm Cooper is one man definitely not looking back in anger this week.

He will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest footballers ever to grace the game and wasn't it fitting that he would bow out after winning an All-Ireland with his club. He was the complete package who could score 2-4 one day, nothing the next but still be man-of-match, such was his ability to influence a game in different ways. It is nice to see the ‘Gooch' go out on his own terms and in this case he leaves the game having achieved practically everything.

A legend of his time.

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