Derry dream goes up in flames as Armagh become the latest to scorch them

Of Armagh’s contendership, we know a little bit more than we did, but not as much as an 11-point win in Derry city should tell us.

Conor Turbitt rolls home Armagh's second goal despite the best efforts of Odhran Lynch and Brendan Rogers. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Conor Turbitt rolls home Armagh's second goal despite the best efforts of Odhran Lynch and Brendan Rogers. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
All-Ireland SFC Group One: Derry 0-15 Armagh 3-17

THERE are plenty of damning things you could say about Derry but perhaps the most telling criticism is that we don’t even really know where Armagh are after this.

The beaten Ulster finalists scored 3-17 in Celtic Park, 3-14 of it from play.

They hit 70 per cent efficiency.

Their midfield annihilated Derry’s kickout, their pace ripped the Oak Leafers to bits. They were ruthless, they were energetic, they were individually dominant. Armagh could not have done any more right.

But Derry were just so, so bad that you cannot even give Kieran McGeeney’s side the level of credit they might except. It was like Donegal: The Sequel in many ways, except even worse.

Whereas Shaun Patton’s laser trajectory had ambushed them in early April, this was a lot of their own doing.

Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin will rightly be criticised for much of what happened but they cannot legislate for the individual errors that led to Armagh’s first two goals.

On the first, Conor McCluskey was stripped of the ball by a brilliant Tiernan Kelly tackle. Derry had committed 13 men to the attack. Oisin Conaty set off, fed Ross McQuillan and Armagh were 1-3 to 0-3 ahead.

The second goal, Brendan Rogers threw an inexplicably loose pass across the 45′.

Armagh picked it off and Conor Turbitt was all on his own with 60 yards to eat up.

There lay a telling sign in how he finished it though. Rogers busted a gut to get back and redeem himself but couldn’t make it. The rest of the white and red shirts were either standing still 90 yards away or trundling back.

When Turbitt went to score, he almost stopped, looked back at his two supporting runners, decided it was a bad choice, stepped on to his left foot and did it himself.

Conaty had already hit the underside of the bar earlier, firing the first warning shot off a basic kickout routine that saw the outstanding Ben Crealey flick the ball down into his path. He was on the 65 when he gathered it and nobody got near him until he’d rattled the frame of Derry’s goal.

It was really hard to believe what you were seeing.

Armagh recognised it too. You could see the belief coursing into their black armour, their legs powered up by the visions of burying Derry altogether here.

At half-time they led 2-8 to 0-6. All 8,000 or so citizens in Celtic Park were stunned at what had unfolded.

The two goals spoke to deeper problems that were most visibly laid bare by Conor Glass’s reaction to the substitution of his clubmate Emmett Bradley.

It was a baffling decision.

Glass couldn’t hide it. In the middle of the field, he stood with his two arms out wide, looking at the sideline in disbelief.

Bradley’s replacement Ciaran McFaul earned a yellow card then a black and was sent off 16 minutes after coming on, their indiscipline of recent weeks another sign of the crumbling Derry walls.

The wheels have fallen off spectacularly since they won the Division One title nine weeks ago.

In defeats by Donegal, Galway and now Armagh, they have conceded a total of 9-42.

Of that, 8-34 has come from open play.

They’re so passive and shapeless and wide to the world.

Part of that must be attributed to the absences in defence, with Eoin McEvoy still out through injury and Gareth McKinless through self-inflicted means after his red card in Galway that will rule him out of Westmeath too.

But structurally, they are all over the place. They have been a ragged mess.

It’s one thing being beaten, but they’ve been annihilated twice on their own patch.

The All-Ireland dream is surely dead.

Of Armagh’s contendership, we know a little bit more than we did, but not as much as a nine-point win in Derry city should tell us.

What was really notable was how their depth stood to them in a big way.

It has taken a long time to build a squad that’s capable of competing at this level but their depth is the match of any side in Ireland.

Kieran McGeeney has fierce critics within the county but a lot of the criticism feels crazy.

He lost Ciaran Mackin to the dreaded cruciate in midweek. Andrew Murnin missed out. Conor O’Neill ruptured his Achilles against Westmeath.

Ross McQuillan was an early blood sub for Peter McGrane and went on to have a huge impact, scoring the first goal and setting up the third with a fine fetch and quick delivery for Rian O’Neill to waltz through, make his decision and slide the ball home.

Paddy Burns and his cousin Jarly Óg didn’t get off the bench.

Niall Grimley started his first game in two years.

He suffered a broken neck during a training session in May 2022.

Last November, Niall’s brother Paddy and his wife Ciera were killed in a tragic road accident that also claimed the life of their friend Ciara McElvanna.

Niall Grimley gave some performance in Celtic Park.

Armagh gave some performance but they have to back it up against Galway now, prove their wares again.

For Derry, well, they have to beat Westmeath just to stay in. A draw would see Westmeath through.

If Derry win, they’ll finish third.

Anything less than a 20-point swing against Louth would see them finish second in their group.

A Tyrone win over Cork would see them almost certainly finish second in their group.

The other option for their preliminary quarter-final is the losers of Dublin and Mayo.

Whichever of the three it is, Derry would be away from home.

It’s a very, very, very long road from here.

Derry: O Lynch; D Baker (0-1), C McKaigue; D Gilmore, C Doherty, C McCluskey; B Rogers, E Bradley (0-1), C Glass (0-3, 0-1 mark); E Doherty (0-1), E Mulholland, P Cassidy (0-1); N Toner, S McGuigan (0-6, 0-4 frees), L Murray (0-1)
Subs: C McFaul for E Bradley (42), D Cassidy for Toner (46)
Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, B McCambridge (0-1), P McGrane; J McElroy, Connaire Mackin, A Forker (0-1); N Grimley (0-1), B Crealey (0-1), R O’Neill (1-1); S Campbell, R Grugan (0-1), T Kelly (0-2); O Conaty (0-2), C Turbitt (1-4, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free)
Subs: J Duffy for Campbell (49), G McCabe for Forker (55), O O’Neill (0-1) for R O’Neill (55), S McPartlan (0-1) for B Crealey (65), A Nugent (0-1 free) for Turbitt (66)
Blood subs: R McQuillan (1-0) for McGrane (9-62), D McMullan for Mackin (72-FT)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)