Armagh answer critics with thumping 30-point win over Offaly

Armagh’s Charlie Vernon escapes the clutches of James Lawlor of Offaly during yesterday's Allianz Football League Division Three match at the Athletic Grounds Picture: Ian Magennis
From Kenny Archer at the Athletic Grounds

Allianz Football League Division Three: Armagh 6-22 Offaly 0-10

“YOU don’t get as many questions when you win,” quipped Kieran McGeeney – but the fact is his Armagh team provided all the answers in this astonishing win by a 30-point margin.

The notoriously gloomy Armagh reporters were racking their brains from early in the second half, not just wondering if their county had ever scored as much but in trying to find fault with this performance.

The perfectionist ‘Geezer’ might find something, if he looks extremely hard, but he was understandably in as fine form as his players afterwards.

Asked why he wasn’t smiling when he came to speak to the media, he joked: “I used them all up inside [the changing room].”

The match was effectively over in almost as short a time as McGeeney’s post-match press conference, after Armagh scored the first of their sixth goals in the sixth minute, to give them a 1-5 to no score lead.

The identity of that opening goalscorer, wing-back Niall Rowland, was almost as unexpected as the final score.

Indeed the Culloville man finished so well that many (others) in the press box thought that it was Jamie Clarke who had found the net.

So prolific were Armagh that eight players actually got on the scoresheet before the Crossmaglen sharp-shooter opened his account in the 27th minute, the last of the starting six forwards to do so. In all, a dozen men in orange scored, including three substitutes.

Offaly mustered little response, with further goals following from Stefan Campbell, Niall Grimley, Andy Murnin, Rory Grugan, and Anto Duffy.

Armagh were impressively consistent, scoring 3-11 in each half, restricting their opponents to just four points after the interval

They’re now on five points in the table after four matches, although McGeeney accepted that their whopping margin of victory is almost worth an extra point in the standings:

“Yeah it is, and that's where we got caught [in Division Two] last year, and even in the McKenna Cup this year, so you'd like to think it would stand to you.”

Having said that, he quickly tried to dampen down any euphoria and increased expectations about promotion, commenting: “It's still only two points for all the points we put on the board. It was impressive but you're not better off.”

Well, Armagh are certainly much better off than Offaly, whose manager Pat Flanagan graciously agreed to an interview after this humiliating hammering, admitting that he was shocked by the manner and margin of their loss:

“We came up here, we thought we were prepared to put in a good performance but Armagh caught us very, very cold early on and went into a huge lead before we got on the scoreboard at all. We never really recovered from that, psychologically, I think.

“Armagh looked exceptionally good. It was a big beating and they were worthy of [giving] that beating because they were so far ahead of us today.

“We have a team the majority of which was with us last year and we nearly got out of Division Three so there’s a bit of experience there. I can’t put my finger on why we were so poor today, there’s no point in saying any different.

“We’re after being very competitive in every game since I got involved with Offaly and that was the first game we haven’t been competitive in. It’s very difficult straight off to see why but to concede six goals and whatever points is very difficult to take.”

Having stuttered and stumbled to one point from their first two games, then hung in for a win in Longford the previous weekend, Armagh boss McGeeney was happy to get another victory – although he did anticipate his team scoring well:

“We just needed a win and that's the biggest thing to take from that. The last couple of games the forwards have threatened to click and they haven't and we've made things difficult for ourselves.

“Today they played some lovely football and kicked nice scores but I suppose it's the old cliché, Offaly aren't as bad as that and we're not as good as that.”

Armagh were superb, though, from the outset, midfielder Stephen Sheridan starting the scoring inside 12 seconds.

It was rapidly evident that goals, and a few of them, were on for Armagh, with Campbell and Charlie Vernon both taking their points when they might have gone for more.

Armagh’s first score from a free, converted by Campell, took them to a 1-7 to no score lead inside the ninth minute.

Offaly did launch a mini-revival, with four unanswered points inside the next seven minutes, but when Armagh did reply it was in the best possible style, Andy Murnin sending Campbell in for their second goal.

Their third was a terrific solo effort by the excellent Grimley, part of a very effective half-forward line, which was boosted by Clarke dropping deep to link play to the inside pairing of Murnin and Campbell, with the latter making it 3-11 to 0-6 at half-time with a monster point from the left sideline.

Armagh increased their advantage by 11 from the start of the second half, 2-5 without reply, the goals coming with a scrambled close range effort by Murnin and a well-worked opening for Grugan to palm to an empty net after Campbell cleverly combined with Murnin.

Nigel Dunne showed some spirit for the visitors, with two scores in-a-row, but Armagh still outdid Offaly by 1-6 to 0-2 after that.

The sixth goal came on the hour, substitutes Ciaran McKeever and Gavin McParland teeing up the industrious Duffy to become the fifth starting forward to find the net. Amazingly, Clarke was the exception.

The Orchardmen now aim to pick off neighbours – and divisional leaders – Louth on March 19, with McGeeney concluding: “As you get more players back you hope there's more competition and competitiveness and I think we're going to need it all because we have Louth next in two weeks’ time.

“It'll be a tough game down in Drogheda so it's nice to run up a big score and get a wee bit of confidence in the team”.

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Armagh: B Hughes; M Shields, C Vernon (0-1), P Hughes; N Rowland (1-0), B Donaghy, A McKay; S Sheridan (0-2), A Findon; R Grugan (1-3, 0-2 frees), A Duffy (1-1), N Grimley (1-3); J Clarke (0-2), S Campbell (1-4, 0-2 frees), A Murnin (1-2).

Substitutes: B Crealey (0-2) for Findon (h-t); G McParland (0-1) for Campbell (46); G McCabe for Shields (50); C McKeever for Murnin (56); A Forker for Grugan (59); O Mac Iomhair (0-1) for Clarke (63).

Yellow card: Clarke (43).

Offaly: K Garry; N Darby, J Lawlor, S Pender; C Donoghue, E Rigney, D Hanlon (0-1); E Carroll (0-2), C McNamee; G Guilfoyle (0-1), P Cunningham, M Brazil; S Doyle, N Dunne (0-4, 0-2 frees), B Allen (0-2).

Substitutes: J O’Connor for Donoghue (25); J Walsh for Brazil (46); S Nally for Darby (51); J Gethings for Cunningham (51); N Bracken for McNamee (53); D Carroll for Rigney (66).

Yellow cards: Guilfoyle (38); Carroll (59).

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).

Attendance: 3,389.

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