'Terrible' Armagh beat Longford to keep their 100 per cent record

Armagh’s Brendan Donaghy takes possession during yesterday’s one-point victory over Longford in the Allianz Football League Division Three clash at the Athletic Grounds Picture by Philip Walsh
Armagh’s Brendan Donaghy takes possession during yesterday’s one-point victory over Longford in the Allianz Football League Division Three clash at the Athletic Grounds Picture by Philip Walsh

Allianz Football League Division Three: Armagh 1-11 Longford 1-10

BOTH bosses agreed on one aspect of this gripping game – that Armagh were penalised for 26 fouls against Longford’s 12. Their views on that disparity, and its consequences, were very different, though, as they were about many of the match’s other decisions.

Longford were understandably aggrieved to lose, having never been behind before home skipper Rory Grugan struck the winning point from distance in the fifth minute of added time.

The visitors were also unhappy that their captain – and scorer of their goal from a penalty – Donal McElligott seemed to be pushed off the ball seconds before Ethan Rafferty held off several defenders to rifle a 69th-minute levelling shot to the net.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney commented: “It’d be interesting to see somebody’s take on that, if they were giving out about decisions, because there seemed to be about three men on his back when he took the shot…

“We’ll have different perspectives on refereeing decisions, but I think it was 12 to 26 fouls so they seemed to get the lion’s share of them.”

Longford’s Denis Connerton initially declined to comment, such was his anger and disappointment, but although he concurred with those numbers, he declared:

“We feel we were really let down by the officials today. In the game we had 26 fouls for Armagh, 12 for Longford and yet we picked up a serious amount of cards.”

He described the 39th minute dismissal of tank-like midfielder Andrew Farrell for a second yellow card as “very harsh”, an assessment that would have surprised most observers.

Yet any neutrals, and perhaps even some Armagh supporters, would have had some sympathy for Longford losing this match, having performed so well for much of it.

“It’s not the first time this has happened to us, unfortunately,” complained Connerton. “It’s so difficult to win matches, you feel that you just need a little bit more protection, and you need the officials to perform at a better level than they did today.

“Our performance in itself was magnificent, we played a large portion of that second half with 14 players against 15, in a very difficult venue to come to.”

As for the lead-up to the Armagh goal, Connerton was somewhat reticent, saying only that “we felt that things just didn’t go our way.”

McGeeney’s greatest concern was with his own side’s shooting, with a series of wides struck in the second half despite having that extra man advantage.

“I thought we were terrible today,” he stated, “we played very poorly. We had 34 shots compared to their 19 or 18, and hit wides – our shooting boots were terrible.

“I suppose it is a good sign that the team is coming on, that they played so poorly and can still win a game. Last year we were playing really well at times, going into 36, 37 minutes five or six points up and either losing them or ending up a draw.

“It’s definitely a positive in that respect – but I wouldn’t be jumping up and down about how we were shooting today.”

Armagh had made two changes to the team that had started down in Westmeath. Brendan Donaghy came into defence instead of Paul Hughes but, contrary to what was announced, it was Ben Crealey in at full-forward for Ronan Lappin rather than Andrew Murnin, with the latter apparently feeling a twinge in the warm-up.

Longford were already without attacker Sean McCormack from last weekend and then lost his brother, full-back Padraig, to an early jaw injury.

The hosts had Charlie Vernon and Aidan Forker dropping deeper, but rather than denying their opponents space the consequence was to invite Longford on and the visitors accepted willingly, moving into a 4-1 lead after 15 minutes.

However, three excellent scores inside four minutes brought Armagh right back into it – indeed they might have gone ahead but Grugan’s rasping shot on the turn was pushed over the bar by goalkeeper Paddy Collum, in between points from Stephen Sheridan and Rafferty.

Yet despite drawing level Armagh could not build on it. Instead, Longford re-asserted their authority, with Robbie Smyth in fine scoring form, and they led by eight points to five at the break.

Although Rafferty earned an early booking shortly after the teams turned around for tangling with the opposing ’keeper, it was Longford’s indiscipline that cost them.

Farrell, who was cautioned for an aerial challenge on Grugan in the first half, clattered into Rafferty and seemed to accept his fate, in the form of a red card.

Armagh took advantage, at least for a time, starting with Grugan converting the subsequent free, although McGeeney pointed out that that was a rarity on the day: “We scored two from eight frees, where normally our free kick [conversion] count is quite good, Rory and Ethan are both very good on the free kicks.”

Still, as snow started falling again, Armagh’s accuracy improved, at least briefly, with two more points from Rafferty, off either foot, and a superb long distance effort from Gregory McCabe, helping them level matters at nine apiece.

Longford then grabbed a lifeline, McElligott stroking in a spot-kick awarded after Donaghy fell on the rebound when Blaine Hughes parried out a fierce shot from Smyth.

The situation looked as gloomy as the sky for Armagh, especially when a Grugan free fell short and then Niall Grimley could not convert a 45; worse still, James McGivney extended Longford’s advantage to four, 1-10 to 0-9, with a huge score.

As McGeeney put it, “We missed enough to win two or three games. It wasn’t that we were terrible in every facet of our play, we played really at different stages…

“They were taking shots from the sideline and going over the bar, some incredible scores, and we couldn’t score in front of it.”

Credit to Armagh, though, they kept pushing forward and probing, although the sights of their main men, Grugan and Rafferty, were askew, but they came good in the end, as McGeeney acknowledged:

“They were also missing some scores that they would normally score but in fairness to both of them, when the chips were down, they got the scores that mattered.”

Armagh are clear at the top of the table, but McGeeney refused to get carried away, concluding: “After that I wouldn’t be jumping up about promotion.”

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns; A McKay, B Donaghy; N Rowland, G McCabe (0-1), M Shields; S Sheridan (0-1), C Vernon; R McShane, A Forker, N Grimley (0-1 free); R Grugan (capt.) (0-3, 0-1 free), B Crealey (0-1), E Rafferty (1-4).

Substitutes: A Duffy for McShane (45); M Stevenson for Crealey (61); J McElroy for Donaghy (63); A Findon for Sheridan (71); R Kennedy for Duffy (black card, 73).

Yellow cards: McCabe (13); Grugan (27); Grimley (76).

Black card: Duffy (71, replaced by Kennedy); Burns (76, not replaced)

Longford: P Collum; P Fox, P McCormack, D McElligott (1-0, penalty); M Quinn (0-1), B Gilleran, D Mimnagh (0-1); D Gallagher, A Farrell; B McKeon, D McGivney (0-2 frees), D Reynolds (0-2); R Smyth (0-3), C Berry, R Brady.

Substitutes: P Foy for McCormack (11); J McGivney (0-1) for D McGivney (22, black card); R McEntire for (Brady, 47); D Quinn for Reynolds (71); D Masterson for M Quinn (black card, 74).

Yellow cards: Farrell (19 and 39); McKeon (22); J McGivney (38, first half); Gilleran (59).

Black cards: D McGivney (22, replaced by J McGivney); M Quinn (73, replaced by Masterson).

Red card: Farrell (39, two yellows)

Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)