GAA Football

Pace, power and panache sees Armagh past Fermanagh in All-Ireland SFC Qualifier

Armagh's Andrew Murnin competes for the ball with Fermanagh's Che Cullen and Conor P Murphy
From Andy Watters at the Athletic Grounds

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifying Round 1B: Armagh 0-20 Fermanagh 0-11

PLAYING with pace, power and panache, Armagh swept Fermanagh aside to clinch a morale-boosting Qualifier win yesterday evening.

The Orchardmen recovered from a 20-minute first half barren spell to win at a canter against an Erne outfit that fought gamely but struggled to match them for quality, particularly in the second half.

The loss of tiring captain Eoin Donnelly (to his second yellow card in three minutes) was a mortal blow to Pete McGrath’s side, but Armagh had established a six-point lead by that stage and, even with the Cua man on the field, a Fermanagh comeback looked unlikely.

The Ernemen survived on Tomas Corrigan frees (he finished with six) and a late double from Sean Quigley who wasn’t fit to start the game, while the Orchardmen had five points from Rory Grugan and seven from outstanding midfielder Niall Grimley.

At times Fermanagh seemed powerless to stop quick delivery into the Armagh full-forward line and with the ball in their hands Jamie Clarke (0-3) and Andy Murnin (0-2) always looked threatening.

Stand-in Armagh manager John Toal was also able to utilize a formidable bench that included Ciaran McKeever, Stefan Campbell and Ethan Rafferty so, all-in-all, this was a good evening’s work for the Orchard county that will give them confidence for the battles to come against one of Leitrim, Monaghan, Westmeath or Tipperary.

From the start the Orchardmen wasted no time getting the ball up to Clarke and Murnin and willing St Paul’s clubman Murnin was onto Anthony Duffy’s early pass in a flash and he shrugged off Che Cullen to give his side the lead after two minutes.

Sheridan grabbed a ‘mark’ from Chris Snow’s kick-out and again Murnin was out in front of Cullen to take possession. This time he was fouled and Grugan curled over a free from the right.

With only Tomas Corrigan and Barry Mulrone (a late replacement for Quigley) in their half, Armagh pressed high up the pitch and closed Fermanagh down, but indisciplined tackling and poor shooting gave the Ernemen a foothold in the game.

Aaron McKay’s foul on Paul McCusker, a tricky runner with the ball, allowed Tomas Corrigan a free and Ryan Lyons tied the scores after Ryan McCluskey had won the kick-out.

Corrigan edged Fermanagh ahead with an extraordinary effort from a sideline ball on the right touchline and the Oliver Plunkett’s dead-ball specialist added another when Mark Shields’ off-the-ball foul was spotted by referee Cormac Reilly.

At the other end, Armagh had lost their way. There were five wides on-the-trot as the home side struggled to turn possessions into scores. The Orchardmen went back and across in familiar fashion as Fermanagh retreated into their defensive shell and Donnelly showed them how it could be done when he blasted over his side’s fifth point when Armagh backed off inside their own 45-yard line.

Armagh had gone 20 minutes without a score, but they picked up from where they had left off when they remembered to move the ball quickly again.

Grimley found Clarke, who makes the game look very simple at times, and he off-loaded the ball to Murnin who got Armagh going again.

Clarke scored the next himself and two Grugan frees regained the lead for Armagh before Ciaron O’Hanlon, in for the injured James Morgan and well worth his place, joined the attack to land another point.

Fermanagh were given no space or time in their own half and, though Corrigan’s free kept them in it, Grugan’s strike sent Armagh in 0-8 to 0-6 ahead at the break.

Armagh had led Down at half-time in Newry three weeks’ previously but this time they were in no mood to let the game slip away.

Fermanagh needed a good start to the second half, but it was Armagh who got it.

Sheridan’s fetch from the throw-in paved the way for his midfield partner Grimley to score and the Madden clubman earned a free, which he converted himself, in the next attack.

Corrigan landed a free but sent two wide, in between another from Grimely score, as Fermanagh gamely tried to rouse themselves for a comeback.

Sean Quigley, on for Ruairi Corrigan, missed one too and referee Reilly was having none of Fermanagh’s penalty appeals when Tomas Corrigan went down in the square after he wriggled through the Armagh defence.

Orchard substitute Stefan Campbell announced his arrival with a sweet strike to send the home side 0-12 to 0-7 ahead and another Grugan free followed before Donnelly, who seemed to be tiring, was booked for a hand-off on Sheridan and then sent off for a shove on the same player.

Despite his loss Fermanagh’s flame flickered briefly again and Quigley stroked over two excellent points, the second after Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes had saved Daniel Teague’s shot.

That was Fermanagh’s last hurrah and from there to the finish Armagh out-scored them by seven points to two. Four of them came Grimley and two from Clarke while Rafferty and Campbell also raised white flags.

To their credit, Fermanagh never raised theirs but there’s no doubt that the team has lost its sparkle this season. Pete McGrath is certainly capable of restoring it, but the sun may have set on his reign last night.

Meanwhile, after their smiling fans had made their way home looking forward to another day out, the Armagh players were in good voice as they celebrated Ciaran McKeever’s birthday.

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Ciiiiiaaarrraaan, happy birthday to you…”

They’d love to treat the Cullyhanna veteran to a trip to Croke Park as a belated present.

Armagh: B Hughes; C O’Hanlon (0-1), C Vernon, A McKay; A Forker, B Donaghy, P Hughes; S Sheridan, N Grimley (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 ‘45’); M Shields, A Duffy, R Grugan (0-5 frees); J Clarke (0-3), A Murnin (0-2), G McParland

Subs: S Campbell (0-2) for Murnin (40), C McKeever for O’Hanlon (47), E Rafferty (0-1) for McParland (68), O O’Neill for Grugan (69)

Yellow card: Murnin (32)

Fermanagh: C Snow; M Jones, C Cullen, C McManus; A Breen, R McCluskey, CP Murphy; E Donnelly (0-1), L Cullen; B Mulrone, R Lyons (0-2), P McCusker; D McCusker, R Hyde, T Corrigan (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 sideline ball)

Subs: R Corrigan for Hyde (22), S Quigley (0-2) for R Corrigan (45), D Teague for CP Murphy (60), K Connor for C McManus (68)

Yellow cards: C Cullen (32), Donnelly (54&57)

Red card: Donnelly (57)

Referee: C Reilly (Meath)

Attendance: 9,438

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