GAA Football

Fermanagh veterans teach Armagh youngsters Championship lesson

Kieran McGeeney's Armagh were beaten by Fermanagh. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Andy Watters

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-7

From Andy Watters at Brewster Park

FERMANAGH’S grizzly veterans taught Armagh’s fresh-faced youngsters a Championship lesson on Saturday evening as the Erne county recorded their first Ulster win over the Orchardmen since 1966.

With no obvious match-winner on either side, experience and composure were the key ingredients in an attritional affair at Brewster Park and Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher did what Armagh fans must have feared by using the eight weeks since these counties met in the Division Three final by coming up with a gameplan that the Orchard county could not match.

Gallagher, an animated presence on the touchline throughout the game, had total buy-in from his players who worked like demons with the ball and without it to land a dozen points, which was more than enough.

The Orchardmen arrived as favourites but trailed by two points at half-time and their goose was cooked a minute into the second half when Niall Grimley was sent off for an elbow on Seamus Quigley.

Without him, Armagh soon found themselves six points adrift (0-10 to 0-4) and, although they battled back gamely to close the gap to three, they lacked the experience and finishing quality to recover and have now fallen at the first Ulster hurdle against Donegal, Cavan, Down and Fermanagh during Kieran McGeeney’s time as manager.

McGeeney’s men were expected to dominate in midfield, but Fermanagh pair Ryan Jones and Eoin Donnelly out-maneuvered Charlie Vernon and Grimley and men in green shirts hoovered up the vast majority of the breaks in a game that included only three marks.

With a steady supply of primary possession, Fermanagh patiently worked scoring opportunities by deploying their forwards on the wings and in the corners and leaving acres through the centre for Ryan Jones, Barry Mulrone or the McCusker brothers, Paul and Declan, to run into. They landed four points between them, while Seamus Quigley recovered form an uncertain start to contribute six (five frees) and see them home.

Meanwhile, without Rory Grugan (who was ruled unfit to start) Armagh lacked a creative play-making presence in the half-forward line and relied on hopeful punts to their isolated full-forward pair.

Fermanagh coped with that route-one tactic and the Orchardmen only looked really dangerous when they ran the ball down the flanks at pace. They couldn’t do that enough and, corralled under pressure, repeatedly gave the ball away.

Both sides had missed scoring chances before Sean Quigley’s shot cannoned off a post and broke to his brother whose left foot drive was well saved by Blaine Hughes. The ball broke back to Sean, who was fouled, and Seamus landed the free.

Declan McCusker capitalized on Donnelly’s clever off-the-ball run to double the lead before Mark Shields raced forward to open Armagh’s account.

Mulrone did the same and, after Gavin McParland had registered Armagh’s second wide of the evening, Ryan Jones found space were there shouldn’t have been any and tapped over Fermanagh’s fourth point.

Ethan Rafferty landed a free and then took a pass from Ryan McShane to leave one in it after 17 minutes. Astoundingly, that was Armagh’s last score from play.

Ryan Jones scored his second of the game and the temperature rose on the sideline after Che Cullen and Rafferty clashed. Armagh Maor Foirne Paddy McKeever was banished to the stands for a push on Gallagher

Armagh were frustrated on the field too and Grimley sent a 45 wide before Maghery midfielder Ben Crealey – who had looked all at sea on the left wing - was substituted.

Gavin McParland stroked a free over after Murnin – who couldn’t get into the game – had been fouled to leave a point in it, before Seamus Quigley second free of the half sent Fermanagh in two points up at the break.

It was obvious that Armagh would need a second half goal to win the game and they had been on the field for almost five minutes before Fermanagh finally emerged from their changingroom.

If their delay was designed to frustrate Armagh, it worked. With a minute gone after the restart, Grimley’s left elbow collided with Seamus Quigley’s face right under the nose of referee Paddy and the Madden clubman received a straight red card.

Quigley clipped over the free to rub salt into the wound and Fermanagh, sensing victory, capitalized as Armagh reorganized.

Sean Quigley landed his first point from play before the hard-working Kane Connor found the equally hard working Lee Cullen down the left wing and he cut inside and made it 0-9 to 0-4.

Another Seamus Quigley free, after the inspirational Donnelly had been fouled, sent Fermanagh six points clear and Armagh’s response was to send on Grugan.

He immediately landed two frees to steady the ship and, with Brendan Donaghy putting himself about to rally the side, Armagh began to hint at a comeback.

But they couldn’t take their chances. Rafferty sent a free drifting wide, Charlie Vernon missed the target too and there was a roar of delight from the home fans after Rafferty (it wasn’t his day) blazed wide again.

Another wide followed when Grugan picked out Niall Rowland, who did the hard work but shot off target, before Fermanagh picked up from where they’d left off.

Seamus Quigley showed for Ciaran Corrigan’s pass, dummied Donaghy, then flicked the ball off the turf into his hands and sent it whizzing over the bar with a swing of his right fist.

With time running out, Armagh continued to sit in their own half and allow Fermanagh to pass the ball back and forth in front of them, running down the clock.

Seamus Quigley thumped another free over the bar to leave Fermanagh double-scores leaders at 0-12 to 0-6.

Grugan managed another free before he was black-carded and Murnin had a late shot, his only one of the game, before referee Neilan called it off.

Fermanagh, deserving winners, march on to what should be a much tougher test in the Ulster semi-finals while Armagh haven’t much time to lick their wounds before they begin their familiar Qualifier journey.

A young Armagh fan belied his choirboy looks as he summed up his feelings at the final whistle.

“That was s**t,” he told his dad, stoney-faced.

Dad wasn’t pleased with the language, but he didn’t argue.

They’ll hope for better days as the summer unfolds.

Fermanagh: P Cadden; K Connor, C Cullen, M Jones; B Mulrone (0-1), J McMahon, L Cullen (0-1); E Donnelly, R Jones (0-2); P McCusker, D McCusker (0-1), A Breen; Sean Quigley (0-1), C Jones, Seamus Quigley (0-6, 0-5 frees).

Subs: C Corrigan for Sean Quigley (56), D Teague for P McCusker (63), E Maguire for Breen (66), C McManus for Connor (71), T Clarke for C Jones (74)

Blood sub: 17 for Connor (72)

Yellow cards: Donnelly (28), Mulrone (40), Seamus Quigley (42), R Jones (44),

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, B Donaghy; C Mackin, G McCabe, M Shields (0-1); C Vernon, B Crealey; R McShane, A Forker, N Grimley; E Rafferty (0-2, 0-1 free), A Murnin, G McParland (0-1 free).

Subs: N Rowland for Crealey (30), J McElroy for Mackin (43), R Grugan (0-3 frees) for McParland (46), J Hall for McShane (50), E McGeown for Rafferty (61)

Yellow cards: Crealey (16), McCabe (41), Murnin (65)

Red card: Grimley (36)

Black card: Grugan (74) – not replaced.

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon).

Attendance: 8,421

Fermanagh ratings

Pat Cadden: Caught in possession once in the second half, otherwise he sent his kick-outs long. Did the basics well. 7

Kane Connor: Played in the middle third and kept the ball moving. Did a solid defensive job and played the assist for Lee Cullen’s point. 7

Che Cullen: Locked in a physical battle with Ethan Rafferty and limited him to one point from play. Comfortable in possession too. 7

Michael Jones: Won his tussle with Armagh dangerman Andrew Murnin and that had a massive impact on the game. 7

Barry Mulrone: The Fermanagh forwards created space for him to break into and he did so at every opportunity. Worked hard in the middle third. 7

James McMahon: Instinctively covered ground as the spare man in defence. Seemed to be in the right place all the time and gathered a lot of breaking ball. 7

Lee Cullen: Took a point in the second half to go along with a very solid display in the Fermanagh rearguard. 6

Eoin Donnelly: A good mix of power and composure, he was the outstanding midfielder on show and ran the game for the Ernemen by dropping back to recycle possession and bring other players into the game. 8

Ryan Jones: The Derrygonnelly clubman put in a Trojan effort in midfield alongside Donnelly. Landed two first half points. 7

Paul McCusker: Like his brother, he covered acres on Saturday. Won the dirty ball and used it well, tackled and made supporting runs. 6

Declan McCusker: See star man.

Aidan Breen: Another member of the hard-working Fermanagh middle third engineroom. Shot wide in the first half, otherwise used the ball well. 6

Sean Quigley: Hit uprights in both halves and scored a fine point too. He is inclined to shoot from difficult positions. 6

Conall Jones: Played an unselfish role. Started in the full-forward line but finished in the full-back line. 6

Seamus Quigley: First Championship start for the Roslea forward. One point from four shots in the first half, but he improved as the game wore on and finished with six, including one from play. 7

Substitutions:

Ciaran Corrigan: First taste of Championship action for Corrigan. Played the assist for a Seamus Quigley point. 6

Daniel Teague: Slotted into the half-forward line after he replaced Paul McCusker. 6

Eamonn Maguire: Replaced Breen after 66 minutes and helped see Fermanagh home. 6

Cain McManus: Not on long enough to be rated.

Tom Clarke: Not on long enough to be rated.

Armagh ratings 

Blaine Hughes: Made a good save with his feet to deny Sean Quigley in the third minute. Over-hit one kick-out in the first half but otherwise a solid enough showing. 6

Patrick Burns: Started on Conall Jones but eventually moved on to Aidan Breen and they had a good battle, with Breen’s darting runs causing problems at times. 6

Aaron McKay: Kept Sean Quigley pretty quiet from play, though there wasn’t too much ball coming his way. Made a last-gasp intervention as the ball looked bound for Seamus Quigley on the edge of the small square early in the second half. 6.5

Brendan Donaghy: Started on Seamus Quigley before moving on to Conall Jones and did okay though, again, there wasn’t much coming in Jones’s direction. A rush of blood saw him misjudge a ball into Quigley late in the second half and the big Roslea man fisted over. 6

Connaire Mackin: Moved to midfield for a time after Crealey’s withdrawal before being taken off early in second half. 6

Gregory McCabe: Spare man in the Armagh defence and made a couple of decent first half interceptions. Beyond that, saw very little of the ball. 6

Mark Shields: Well timed runs set Armagh on the front foot at times as he used his pace to slalom into space and set attacks in motion. The Orchard’s best player. 7

Charlie Vernon: Made a couple of big catches in the first half although with both ‘keepers tending to go short, the midfielders were peripheral figures at times. Shot wide in the second half as Armagh attempted to regain ground. 6

Ben Crealey: Looked a bit too pumped up. Two rash challenges in a matter of minutes, the second for a high challenge on Ryan Jones, earned him a yellow card 15 minutes in. Taken off after half an hour. 5.5

Aidan Forker: Normally such a driving force for Armagh but this was a subdued performance. Struggled to get to grips with the lively Declan McCusker at times. 6

Niall Grimley: Red carded less than a minute into the second half after a loose elbow caught Sean Quigley on the face. Could have few complaints, and Fermanagh scored the next four points to assume total control. 5

Ryan McShane: Busy, worked hard and got up and down but ultimately made no impact on the game before being withdrawn in the 50th minute. 6

Gavin McParland: Well shackled by Lee Cullen, and two first half wides did little for his confidence. 6

Andrew Murnin: Bottled up for the whole game. Came out to half-forward, then midfield for a time after the break but unable to make any impact. Only had one effort at the posts the whole game and it went wide. 6

Ethan Rafferty: Started well, nailing a free and a point, but struggled thereafter, clocking up five wides. Looked rusty after his recent lay-off. 6

Substitutes

Niall Rowland: Came on for Crealey before half-time but had little impact on the game. Kicked a bad wide late on. 6

Joe McElroy: Struggled to get involved as Fermanagh took control after the break. 6

Rory Grugan: Scored three frees and looked lively before a late black card. 6.5

Jemar Hall: Got on plenty of ball but was far too deep to make any meaningful impact. 6

Eamon McGeown: Barely touched the ball after being thrown in at full-forward. 6

Star man

Declan McCusker (Fermanagh)

On an evening when composure and hard work were key, he put in a terrific shift. Passed accurately, tackled tigerishly and constantly supported his team-mates. When Armagh had the ball he harried them, when Fermanagh had it he helped to build attacks. Used his pace to land a point in the first half to cap an excellent performance. 8

KEY BATTLE

Michael Jones (Fermanagh) v Andrew Murnin (Armagh)

PROBABLY unfair on Murnin to suggest he was only up against one man as he was well screened by other green jerseys too. Armagh needed to build off the St Paul’s forward but just could not get him involved in the game at all, with the touch-tight Jones stuck to him like glue. Murnin drifted out into the half-forward line towards the end of the first half in a bid to get involved, and finished the game at midfield but he was unable to hold any sway. Only managed one effort at the posts all evening, and that went well wide with the jig all but up.

TOP SCORE

NOT much to choose from considering there were only eight points from play in the whole game, but Seamus Quigley gets the nod for the speed of the Fermanagh counter in the 62nd minute. When an Armagh attack broke down after a long hopeful punt into the square, the ball was worked to Erne sub Ciaran Corrigan who played a perfectly weighted pass into the right channel.

Brendan Donaghy misjudged the pace of the ball whereas Quigley read it before turning and galloping towards goal, eventually fisting over 19 seconds after the Orchard had lost possession.

REF WATCH

Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)

PERHAPS a bit fussy at times, and Armagh felt Fermanagh were getting frees in scoring positions too easily. But the Orchardmen could have few complaints about the Niall Grimley red card, the Madden man lifting his arm just as Sean Quigley closed in. Quigley’s brother Seamus may have been lucky to escape the same sanction minutes later when he looked to have raised his hands to Brendan Donaghy, with both instead given yellow cards.

TURNING POINT

NIALL Grimley’s red card. Already trailing by two, and having not got their noses in front at all, Armagh needed a big start to the second half. Instead Grimley’s evening ended 37 seconds after the break after catching Sean Quigley with an elbow. Fermanagh notched the next four scores in the space of 10 minutes, leaving Armagh six back. The Orchardmen never recovered.

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