“It’s great to finish top...” Kieran McGeeney delight as battling Armagh claim draw and win their group

Tiernan Kelly goal sees Armagh come from five points down to draw nail-biter against Galway

Tiernan Kelly celebrates after scoring Armagh's second half goal against Galway. Picture: Sportsfile
Tiernan Kelly celebrates after scoring Armagh's second half goal against Galway. Picture: Sportsfile (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Group One, round three: Armagh 1-12 Galway 0-15

WHEN has a draw been celebrated so joyously?

“Do not climb the fence! DO NOT CLIMB THE FENCE!” appealed the stadium announcer, but giddy Armagh fans never heard her as they vaulted the barrier and rushed onto the field at the final whistle of another see-saw thriller between these counties.

Galway needed to win to top the group, a draw was good enough for Armagh but it looked highly-unlikely when they trailed by five points with 57 minutes gone.

Just past the hour-mark they were level. Their goal came from Tiernan Kelly, the villain of the piece two years’ ago, who took Conor Turbitt’s pass and smashed the ball into the net after a misdirected kickout from Galway’s Conor Gleeson.

Turbitt kicked the equaliser but the drama continued deep into injury-time as the Tribesmen regained the lead only for Stefan Campbell, left on the bench for the first half, raced through and fisted over the score that levelled it.

On the day, Galway were the better side but, as Kieran McGeeney acknowledged, Armagh have had enough moral victories to know that in Championship football the scoreboard is all that counts.

“It’s great to finish top,” said the Armagh manager.

“How you do it to me is irrelevant so I’m delighted. We were very poor in the first half, we were very static, low energy… Galway kept the ball well and made us work but I thought we were poor. We were better in the second but finishing top of the group is a big thing and it gives us two weeks to get things together.”

Armagh have been criticised for not closing out games and McGeeney said his players made the most of their “purple patch” to drag a result out of the jaws of defeat.

“Credit to the boys, when the purple patch came they did well so I’m very, very happy for them,” he added.

Had Rob Finnerty’s fisted effort bounced over the crossbar, rather than back onto the field Galway manager Padraic Joyce might well be looking forward to a quarter-final rather than a home preliminary game next weekend.

“Overall I’d be pleased with the way the lads played – we had a monumental first half performance,” he said.

“But you have to take your chances and we just didn’t in the second half. Fair play to Armagh, they’re a good side but we just left them in the game and they fought the way they’re always going to.

“You’d like to avoid the preliminary game but we can’t avoid it and I think our panel is big enough and developed enough to deal with the three games in-a-row so we’ll be fine.”

Stefan Campbell will line out for the Armagh Club Allstars
Stefan Campbell scored Armagh's crucial equaliser against Galway

Old scores from previous meetings and the quarter-final place at stake meant there was edgy tension in the stands and bite on the field but it was cagey stuff and Kelly opened the scoring for Armagh before Matthew Tierney opened Galway’s account after almost 12 minutes.

Turbitt quickly cancelled if out after a pass from clubmate Barry McCambridge and Armagh kept Galway guessing by pushing Ben Crealey and Ciaran Higgins up front alongside Andrew Murnin but they rejected the direct option and Rian O’Neill was turned over inside the Galway 45. The Tribesmen broke and after 20-plus passes, Finnerty levelled it with a good finish from the right corner.

Again Armagh responded quickly. A short kickout found Turbitt who played in Murnin and his shot had the legs to scrape over the bar. Again Galway levelled. A Higgins push on Finnerty was spotted by referee Hurson and Finnerty kicked the free off his heavily-strapped left leg to leave it 0-3 apiece at the end of the first quarter.

Galway took the lead with the best score of the half. Dylan McHugh broke through the Armagh press after a short kickout and the Tribesmen played the ball through the hands until Paul Conroy picked out Cillian McDaid and he split the posts with the first of a series of scores from the left wing.

Galway were dominating possession but not doing enough with it while Armagh were much more direct. Crealey equalised and Turbitt edged the Orchardmen ahead again but the Tribesmen dominated the closing stages of the half.

Finnerty levelled with his second free and as Galway dropped off the Armagh kickout the Orchardmen began to run into trouble. Conroy and Shane Walsh got on the end of fluent counterattacks and then Walsh dummied right and curled the ball over with his left to leave three in it.

Rian O’Neill’s point left it 0-8 to 0-6 at the break and Armagh jogged back to their dressingroom with a few problems to solve.

They took their time coming out for the second half but when the action did start their intensity rating went up several levels.

O’Neill and Kelly were booked in the early stages but Galway continued to look the better side. Walsh landed a free and then Campbell (on for Higgins) dropped a shot short and Crealey kicked wide.

Rian O’Neill and the teak tough John Maher swapped scores and Murnin and Conroy did the same and then McHugh, outstanding at half-back, got forward to extend Galway’s lead to four points (0-12 to 0-8).

Armagh huffed and puffed. Campbell lashed wide and McGrane’s shot was blocked by Liam Silke. Galway had a grip on the midfield battle but, crucially, chances went abegging as Finnerty hit the top of the crossbar and Walsh’s shot dropped short.

However, Silke’s point left five in it with 15 minutes left and it seemed like it just wasn’t going to happen for Armagh.

Then everything changed.

Rian O’Neill won a softish free near the corner flag and Turbitt stroked it over. He jogged out to the 45-metre line for the kickout and Galway ‘keeper Gleeson kicked it straight to him and he raced straight at the posts. Clubmate Kelly was on his right and he took his pass, cut onto his left foot and blasted the ball into the net to leave one in it.

Then Kelly jogged out for the restart and it went straight to him and Armagh, suddenly looking a different team, worked the ball to Rian O’Neill who stroked over the equaliser.

Galway weren’t finished however and although a tiring Conroy and Cathal Sweeney both missed chances, Walsh landed a superb free (very harshly awarded against Aaron McKay) from the 45-metre line to give them the lead again as four minutes of extra-time was signalled.

It was helter-skelter stuff but Campbell showed a calm head as he raced onto the ball down the left and fisted over the score that levelled it and sent his county into the last eight for the fourth time in three seasons.

Armagh: B Hughes; B McCambridge, A McKay, P McGrane; C Higgins, T Kelly (1-1), A Forker; N Grimley, B Crealey (0-1); J McElroy, R O’Neill (0-3), O Conaty; R Grugan, A Murnin (0-2), C Turbitt (0-4, 0-1 free)

Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Higgins (HT), R McQuillan for Conaty (48), A Nugent for Forker (54), O O’Neill for McGrane (65)

Yellow card: R O’Neill (36), Kelly (36)

Galway: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Fitzgerald, J Glynn; D McHugh (0-1), S Mulkerrin, L Silke (0-1); P Conroy (0-2), S Kelly; M Tierney (0-1), J Maher (0-1), C Darcy; R Finnerty (0-3, 0-2 frees), S Walsh (0-5, 0-3 frees), C McDaid (0-1)

Subs: Daly for Mulkerrin (48), C Sweeney for McDaid (54), J Heaney for Kelly (60), D O’Flaherty for Darcy (68), T Culhane for Finnerty (70)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

Attendance: 8,870