Armagh on song as first-half goal-blitz sends them into Ulster semi as Fermanagh left chasing shadows

Ulster SFC quarter-final Fermanagh 0-9 Armagh 3-11

Conor Turbitt celebrates scoring the first Armagh's three first half goals during Sunday's Ulster Championship win over Fermanagh. Picture by Philip Walsh
Conor Turbitt celebrates scoring the first Armagh's three first half goals during Sunday's Ulster Championship win over Fermanagh. Picture by Philip Walsh

YOU really had to feel sorry for the Kingscourt band. There they were, giving it socks, pulling out all the big ones, only to find a fair amount of glum faces staring back at them.

Joe McQuillan’s whistle had just sounded for half-time. Seconds earlier Fionnan O’Brien kicked the last score of the half to barely a ripple of applause from the Fermanagh faithful inside Brewster Park.

That’s because the game was already over, and no amount of ‘I get around’ by the Beach Boys, not even a pumping ‘Proud Mary’, was going to lift the mood. Instead, alongside the happy chatter of the travelling support, was a strange sort of stunned silence. Take your swaying hips and tapping feet elsewhere.

All that remained was the realisation of a pre-match fear that the Ernemen had been stung for so many goals in the past couple of years, most recently during a hiding at the hands of Louth, that recent history might repeat itself here.

Armagh knew too. They may not have mustered any goals in last month’s League meeting, but the Orchard weren’t going to leave Enniskillen without rippling the net now that Championship has arrived.

They could sense Fermanagh’s fragility, capitalising on a series of errors to run in three easy goals that left Kieran McGeeney’s home and hosed by the break, thoughts already drifting towards Down in a fortnight as the second half fizzled out.

Indeed, even from the first ball, they were going to have a go.

Stefan Campbell picked up the break from the throw-in and immediately launched a long ball in on top of Ross Bogue. It was a false alarm, but an alarm nonetheless as Armagh, like the Kingscourt band still to come, swiftly settled into their groove.

Pushing up on Bogue’s kick-outs, Rian O’Neill – making just his second start of the year – and Ben Crealey ensured there would be no escape for the Ernemen as they found themselves hemmed in time and again.

Andrew Murnin popped over after Conor Turbitt’s shot had been blocked, before O’Neill curled over a sumptuous effort to double their early lead. Then came the first of several moments that will leave Fermanagh boss Kieran Donnelly twisting and turning in the dead of night.

Six minutes in, surrounded by Joe McElroy and Ciaran Mackin, Ultan Kelm looked to be heading down a cul-de-sac beneath the stand, until arcing a superb left-footed pass towards Oisin Smyth in the square.

Armagh ‘keeper Blaine Hughes came out to collect but Smyth got in ahead of him, before turning and looking the goal dead in the eye. The only problem was Aaron McKay was hovering right in the middle, and that’s where Smyth sent in, the ball striking the Dromintee man on the line before it was cleared to safety.

Maybe it is being wise after the event to say that had to go in for Fermanagh to stand any chance but, however it is framed, everything started to slide rapidly downhill from here.

Again Kelm was at the start of the game’s next major moment, this time for the wrong reasons as his undercooked pass played Shane McGullion into trouble. Murnin won the battle and, as he bounded upfield with that familiar loping stride, found himself being hauled to the ground by Kelm.

The Erne Gaels man was shown a black card and, in that 10 minute period spent on the sidelines, Armagh ran in two goals that effectively killed off Fermanagh hopes.

Pushing Paddy Burns out to take advantage of the extra man, Armagh eventually broke the Erne resolve, Rory Grugan the architect as he turned away from Smyth too easily before cutting into the square and hand-passing across for Turbitt to finish to an empty net.

Two minutes later, Cian McManus was caught in possession and Armagh weren’t in the form for simply keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

With the scent of blood in their nostrils, Campbell, Jarly Og Burns and Murnin exchanged passes and when Murnin’s shot was well saved by Bogue, Burns was free at the back post to tap home.

Fermanagh’s naivety was telling at times, but Armagh deserve credit for inflicting maximum punishment. This is what McGeeney has been asking of them for years and, at last, they are beginning to deliver.

A Sean Cassidy free registered the Erne County’s first score 22 minutes in, but further heartache was to follow.

Fermanagh's Shane McGullion puts pressure on Armagh's Oisin Conaty during Sunday's Ulster Championship clash at Brewster Park. Pic Philip Walsh
Fermanagh's Shane McGullion puts pressure on Armagh's Oisin Conaty during Sunday's Ulster Championship clash at Brewster Park. Pic Philip Walsh

Mackin curled over after a Fermanagh kick-out malfunction, Jarly Og Burns could well have bagged his second goal of the day instead of fisting over and Murnin almost found the net after directing a wayward O’Neill free into Bogue’s arms, before the third goal eventually arrived six minutes before the break - and it was another calamity from a Fermanagh point of view.

This time Kelm and Garvan Jones got in each other’s road 50 metres from their own goal, Turbitt hoovered up possession and within a matter of seconds the ball was being walked into goal, McElroy and Murnin combining for Campbell to finish easily into an open goal - Fermanagh 0-1 Armagh 3-4.

Had it been a boxing match, the towel would have already come in.

Yet it says something of the switch in the Armagh psyche that a brave Mackin block, getting down onto Cassidy’s boot, drew as big a roar from the Orchard support as any of the three goals; that spirit, that togetherness, even when coasting, that’s what they want to see.

Unsurprisingly, the second half was a non-event. Maybe not for Fermanagh, who will take some heart from breaking even with the 14 points shared evenly, with Kelm determined to make his mark while O’Brien’s endeavours caught the eye.

But it was challenge match stuff by then, Armagh largely minding themselves while the clock ticked down.

Aaron McKay was whipped off the second he picked up a yellow card, replaced by Barry McCambridge, while the level of comfort enjoyed allowed the Orchard to roll the bench and hold O’Neill and Murnin back for the next day.

Oisin O’Neill, Aidan Nugent and Tiernan Kelly, meanwhile, all got much-needed minutes ahead of what Armagh hope will be a long and fruitful summer, the first rung of the ladder negotiated with considerable ease.

Down are up next and, on the evidence of this weekend’s quarter-finals, it might not be unreasonable to expect more of the same after the Mourne County’s uninspiring win over Antrim.

However, having found themselves treading water at times on the way to promotion from Division Three, the prospect of another crack at the noisy neighbours will whet the appetite of Conor Laverty and co.

With last year’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Derry still niggling, Armagh would dearly love to get back to another Ulster final and put things right. They can’t afford to be lulled into a false sense of security before then.

Fermanagh: R Bogue; L Cullen, C Cullen, O Smyth; D McCusker, S McGullion, C McManus; R McCaffrey, J McDade; C McGee, C McShea (0-1), F O’Brien (0-3); U Kelm (0-1), G Jones (0-1, free), S Cassidy (0-1, free). Subs: J Largo Elis for McManus (22), B Horan for McGee (48), C Love (0-2, 0-1 free) for Jones (48), J Cassidy for Smyth (60, D McGurn for McCusker (60).

Black card: U Kelm (13-23)

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; J McElroy, Ciarán Mackin (0-2), A Forker; R O’Neill (0-1), B Crealey; S Campbell (1-2), R Grugan (0-1, free), C Turbitt (1-1, 0-1 free); O Conaty, A Murnin (0-1), J Óg Burns (1-1). Subs: B McCambridge (0-1) for McKay (45), O O’Neill (0-1) for J Og Burns (48), Connaire Mackin for R O’Neill (56), A Nugent for Murnin (56); T Kelly for Turbitt (63)

Yellow cards: J Og Burns (25), A McKay (44)

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)

Att: 7,096


A COUPLE of early moments involving Ultan Kelm.

Had Oisin Smyth managed to find the net, instead of Aaron McKay’s legs, after grasping Kelm’s perfectly-flighted pass six minutes in, this game may have taken on a different look.

But he didn’t, and from that point the wheels started to come off. Kelm was shown a black card seven minutes later, and during his 10 minutes spent watching from the sidelines Armagh grabbed two goals through Conor Turbitt and Jarly Og Burns to put them in total control.

There would be no coming back from that point.

Joe McQuillan (Cavan)

A FAIRLY uneventful afternoon for the Cavan whistler as any fizz swiftly petered out of this game once Armagh started to rack up the goals.

There was some suggestion from the Fermanagh camp that Andrew Murnin may have had a hold of Ultan Kelm’s arm in the incident that led to the Erne Gaels man being shown a black card. From where we were sitting, however, it looked the right decision as Kelm – having given away possession – chased back and dragged Murnin to the ground with the Orchard breaking in numbers.


STEFAN Campbell came up with a couple of classy scores in the second half, but by then the game was already won. So we’ll go for Rian O’Neill, making just his second start of the year, as he used the wind blowing in off Lough Erne to curl over a sublime early score that set Armagh on the road to a comprehensive victory.