GAA Football

Armagh leave Derry feeling down

Armagh's Stephen Sheridan takes on Derry's Emmett Bradley at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night 

Armagh 1-15 Derry 0-14

THE moods of the respective managers couldn’t have been more different after Saturday night’s match ta the Athletic Grounds between Armagh and Derry.

Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh edged closer to promotion to Division Two, while Damian McErlain’s Derry face a relegation battle after Saturday’s result. Armagh’s win was even more impressive given their top scorer Ethan Rafferty was forced off in the eighth minute with a knee injury, while Derry’s woes continued as Brendan Rogers’ return was short-lived as he lasted 16 minutes with a suspected hamstring problem.

Joe McElroy and Crossmaglen’s Paul Hughes were also forced off injured in the first half and McGeeney was “happy” how his team dealt with the situation.

“It is like a warzone in there (the changing room) but I thought it was probably our best performance of the year,” said McGeeney.

“A lot of things were going against them out there but they played well and I am very happy with them.

“When you have to make two or three changes to central players it can sometimes have a detrimental effect, but the team dug in and coming out after half-time and getting those one or two points was a big thing for us.

“It was a good result as any Ulster derby is going to be tough, Derry had their Slaughtneil players back tonight and they probably had their strongest forward line all year with Mark Lynch, Benny Heron and James Kielt starting and Danny Tallon coming on.

“They are all good players but our fellas stood up, many of them in their first game, such as Ryan Kennedy, and I thought they all did exceptionally well, so it is one of those few game of the year that I am happy.”

The Derry boss’s mood was the polar opposite of McGeeney’s. “I am absolutely and seriously frustrated tonight,” said McErlain.

“We were the much better side in the first half and the goal was really unfortunate coming off the post. They reacted quicker than us but we missed a lot of chances and we should have been further ahead at half-time.

“In the second half, we played manfully again and a few decisions didn’t go our way at key times of the match and these things are hard to take when you are fighting for every single point.

“They are key decisions in games that just swing the whole momentum the other way. When the breaks come we don’t seem to have gotten them yet. “But we gave balls away too when we shouldn’t [have] and they got scores from it, so we got to tidy all that up and these are the things that win games.”

Points from Niall Grimley, Andrew Murnin and Conor McAtamney’s reply gave Armagh a 0-2 to 0-1 lead before Murnin bagged the only goal of the game on 17 minutes. Gregory McCabe’s effort struck the post and Murnin leaped into action and fired to the net. But Derry’s reply was equally impressive, with the next five points coming from Mark Lynch, James Kielt, Barry Heron and two from Emmet Bradley. Armagh waited 17 minutes for their third score when Colm Watters kicked over to level the score, but the Oak Leafers pulled away once more with Kielt and Bradley again.

Rory Grugan’s converted free left only a point between the sides, 1-4 to 0-8, at the break. Murnin and Aidan Forker edged Armagh ahead early in the second half but a fisted point from Lynch levelled the score. Slaughtneil’s Rogers made his first appearance under new Derry manager McErlain but he lasted a mere 16 minutes before limping off injured.

With 43 minutes played, Armagh captain Grugan should have hit the net but, with too much time to think where to put it, he screwed his shot woefully wide. However, a minute later he steadied his nerve to kick his side back in front. Bradley and Niall Rowland traded scores and the busy Murnin fisted Armagh ahead with 20 minutes to play. Grugan’s free and a fine long-range effort from Stephen Sheridan put Armagh four points clear.

Carlus McWilliams and Armagh substitute Oisin Mac Imohair traded points, but Lynch reduced the arrears to a goal with his fine point. Two further points from Grugan and another Lynch point left Armagh in control. With the game entering the first of the three additional minutes Charlie Vernon looked to nab Armagh’s second goal, but Paul McNeill fouled the Harps man and referee Derek O’Mahony awarded a penalty.

Grugan kicked his spot-kick over the bar and Karl McKaiuge replied with a point of his own, but Armagh had the valuable League points in the bag. Derry’s face Wexford next Sunday and the Oak Leaf manager has called on supporters to make their voices heard.

“It is an absolutely big game for us, we are in Celtic Park next week and tonight the crowd were instrumental because the team felt their support and so did the referee,” said McErlain.

“He felt that bit of pressure and it would be great to see the fans come out and show their support when we need it most.

“It will be a big Sunday in Celtic Park. We need it big time, we need six points and we need everybody to get behind us. The lads are putting in the same effort as every other inter-county team and they deserve the support.”

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