GAA Football

Armagh change tack and "out-Fermanagh Fermanagh"

Armagh pair Brendan Donaghy and Aaron McKay keep a tight eye on Fermanagh's Tom Clarke during Saturday's clash in Crossmaglen. Picture by Hugh Russell
From Cahair O'Kane in Crossmaglen

Allianz Football League Division Two: Armagh 1-9 Fermanagh 0-6

ARMAGH showed the first signs of life in the battle against massed defences as they "out-Fermanaghed Fermanagh". 

Such setups as the one that had brought the Ernemen to the brink of Division One have been the Orchard's Achilles heel, as best evidenced by these sides' championship meeting last summer. 

Kieran McGeeney's side wrapped up everything they'd learnt from that game and unfurled their teaching in front of a good crowd in Crossmaglen.

It wasn't pretty in the second half, but it was hugely effective from the home side.

Their own scoring return was 1-4 against the elements, but much of the work was done by their retention of the ball and their pressing Fermanagh high up. 

The Ernemen had just one single shot in the almost 31 minutes with the wind, from a speculative Sean Quigley free from close to the 65'. It dropped short. 

Their attacking play was laborious in the extreme, though Armagh deserve credit on that part as well for the way in which they squeezed high and forced the safety-first approach of their visitors to translate as slow, backwards football. 

It meant there was little pressure on the defence, though what trouble did look like materialising was snuffed out by Brendan Donaghy. 

He was imperious in defence on his return, snuffing out Sean Quigley and dominating in the air. 

Fermanagh only looked like having any joy when they pushed men inside for the final few minutes and started to go long and early. 

Having not had more than that one shot for half an hour, they created as many as five half goal chances in the closing stanza. 

It was rolling around on 69 minutes before Declan McCusker dropped a score over the retreated orange blanket for their first score of the second period. 

Armagh's combination of patience and the right injections at the right time paid their dividend, best emphasised by Ethan Rafferty's goal. 

There didn't appear to be much on when he picked the ball up out on the sideline, but once he skipped the first tackle he had a straight run down the endline. 

Thomas Treacy will be disappointed that the shot squeezed through him at the near post. He looked to have stopped it but it came back up off him and slipped into the net behind him.

That came on the hour mark and put Armagh 1-8 to 0-4 ahead, which seemed an unlikely scenario at the end of a first half that Fermanagh looked the happier at the end of.

The home side led 0-5 to 0-4, but had been 0-4 to 0-1 ahead and playing well. They were using the boot early when it was on and Jamie Clarke did some fine work in terms of winning primary ball, although credit to Kane Connor for the way he marshalled the Crossmaglen man when he did have the ball.

There was a slickness and a precision about Armagh’s handpassing game, with Jarlath Óg Burns providing some of the key incisions as well as dominating the skies at midfield. Charlie Vernon and Niall Grimley had fine games beside him as they enjoyed domination on kickouts from both ends.

Fermanagh’s good spell late in the first half brought them three scores in a row, all of them superb efforts, as their first from Aidan Breen had been. Sean Quigley, Declan McCusker and Ryan Lyons all raised white flags to rouse the significant travelling support in the stand.

Rory Gallagher was especially unhappy with the next two scores they conceded though, feeling them symptomatic of the flatness that bookmarked their performance outside that good 10 minute spell.

“I think when you see out there today, there was a softness to the way we played, to the way we went about our business. Whether we like it or not, we showed a lack of leadership on the pitch,” scathed the Erne boss.

They had chances in the final seven minutes. They’d thrown Tom Clarke in beside Sean Quigley and started to turf it long at them.

But as much as it caused an air of panic in the Armagh defence, there was that sense of desperation about Fermanagh that undermined a spell of dominance.

They ended up creating five decent chances but tried to force goals off each one of them. Blaine Hughes made three saves, one of them an excellent close-range stop from Ultan Kelm, while there were blocks from Jarlath Óg Burns and Aaron McKay.

It took Declan McCusker to finally make the call to pop one over for Fermanagh’s first score of the half, and for 42 minutes in total, as the game ticked into the 69th minute.

“I thought they pushed the panic button a wee bit early, with the two big men in and going for goals, we had the men back to cover that,” said Armagh assistant Jim McCorry.

“The over-arching thing was the football played throughout. We controlled the game in all areas, we hit them on the break. To use Kieran [McGeeney]’s term that he used all week, we out-Fermanaghed Fermanagh. If you go out and play your normal style, sometimes you get exposed.”

Che Cullen had been black carded at the end of the first half during Armagh’s own spell down to 14 following the same punishment for Greg McCabe, and Cullen ended up getting the line in stoppage time for adding a yellow.

Niall Grimley, one of four free-takers that Armagh used on a day when their wastefulness was a worry, clipped the final score from the resulting free.

There were high-fives all round following their huddle. A good day’s work for Armagh that secures their safety, and leaves Fermanagh’s possible jump to the top tier looking much less likely ahead of a final-day trip to Meath.

Armagh: B Hughes; R Kennedy, B Donaghy; R Kennedy, P Hughes, A McKay, G McCabe, A Forker (0-1); C Vernon (0-1), N Grimley (0-2f); J Hall, R Grugan (0-1f), J Óg Burns (0-1); P Casey, R O'Neill (0-1f), J Clarke (0-1 mark) 
Subs: S Campbell for Casey (28), M Shields (0-1) for McCabe (HT), E Rafferty (1-0) for O'Neill (60), J McElroy for Forker (64), C Higgins for Hall (72)
Blood sub: B Crealey for Grimley (6-8)
Black card: G McCabe (25)
Yellow card: A Forker (31)

Fermanagh: T Treacy; L Cullen, C Cullen, K Connor; U Kelm, J McMahon, C Corrigan; E Donnelly, R Jones (0-1) C Jones (0-1); D McCusker (0-2), R Lyons (0-1), K McDonnell, A Breen (0-1); S Quigley
Subs: D Teague for McDonnell (39), T Clarke for Lyons (54), J Cassidy (54), P McCusker for Breen (60)
Black card: C Cullen (34)
Yellow cards: R Lyons (42), C Cullen (69)
Red card: C Cullen (69)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

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