Madden pull away from Grange despite Rafferty hat-trick

Madden's Liam Grimley gets away from Grange's Ben Toal during Armagh SFC preliminary round match at the Athletic Grounds Picture: John Merry
From Cahair O'Kane at the Athletic Grounds

Cormac Leonard Armagh SFC preliminary round: Madden 2-12 Grange 3-5

WITH the exception of being unable to stop Ethan Rafferty plundering a hat-trick, Madden were wholly superior in seeing off Grange in Saturday evening's preliminary round tie.

There were just four points between them at the final whistle but you had to wonder how.

Mickey Grimley's men were led by outstanding Armagh panelist Niall Smith, who scored two points and ran Grange ragged from wing-back, while the manager's son Conor and nephew Ryan were formidable in midfield.

In nice weather, they played a nice brand with a nice balance - but everything about the game was far too nice for championship football.

Grange barely landed a blow. Despite operating in Division 1B, they were expected to give the Rapparees their fill of it.

But county men Rafferty and Justin Kieran – just back from a summer in America – both looking leggy in the first half, and Ciaran McKenna struggling on his return from an injury that saw him last just 41 minutes, any tightness in it never materialised.

Switching Rafferty from midfield to full-forward just after half-time turned out simply to be too little, too late for Ronan McAlinden's side. He got up above Jamie Sheridan and all the cover around him to palm home twice, while also burying one into the roof of the net on the turn.

That was all inside the last ten minutes though, and his second goal came straight down from the kickout after Madden had notched their own second major to move 2-11 to 1-5 ahead.

Captain Donal Rafferty was in behind for ages, squealing for the ball until it was finally given to him with him to step around David O'Hagan and roll into the net. The Grange goalkeeper had moments earlier made a brilliant interception on Niall Smith's unselfish square pass to deny a goal and rather than risk the same, Rafferty used the decoy and took the finish on himself.

Really, though, it had been settled by the winners' first goal. Ten seconds from the end of normal time in the first half, a 0-6 to 0-2 lead didn't really reflect proceedings.

What did reflect it was the manner in which the goal came. Smith came like a lightning bolt down the heart of the Grange defence, storming clean through and smashing a bullet off the underside of the bar. It hopped up beautifully for Conor Mone to palm into the net.

Mone and Shea Vallely were their two men in the full-back line and they were two of Madden's most effective attackers in the first half. A lot of the threat was from deep but they used the kick to Aron McKenna well too. If he'd had his shooting boots on he could have had an absolute bagful, but dropped efforts short and wide, settling for two points when he might have had seven or eight.

Darragh McMullen and Joe Sheridan were both lively in the half-forward line, while Conor Grimley had an excellent first half and his cousin Ryan laid the platform early in the second half.

By then, Kieran Faloon had taken over as referee after Paudie Hughes pulled up injured and handed the whistle over at the break.

Grange's decision to push Rafferty inside had a two-fold effect. He'd been in for a while before the first decent ball arrived, a Sean Doherty cross from which he got up to palm home.

That led to Madden placing Ryan Grimley in beside his brother Liam at full-back, which in turn took away their midfield domination and allowed Grange to build up a bit of a head of steam.

The nine-point lead was chopped was chopped to four largely as a result, although Madden manager Mickey Grimley admitted that killing games off had been a problem all season.

It will continue to be unless their decision-making up front improves. They scored 2-12 but left nearly the same again behind them. A bit of composure at times was all stood between them and something really impressive.

“It's hard to say [where they stand],” said Grimley.

“We've been building. We've been putting it up to a lot of good teams all year.

“We definitely feel like we're not far away but we can't perform like that in the second half. But fitness levels are good.”

They remain without Niall Grimley, still recovering from breaking two bones in his neck at Armagh training during the summer, but as he's back running and taking part in non-contact training they're hopeful that if they made it deep enough into the championship, he might be able to take part.

It's Killeavy next in Crossmaglen in two weeks' time. Madden have the tools in a lot of areas, but unless their composure and decision-making improve the ceiling will stay lower than it might be.

Madden: Jamie Sheridan; C Mone (1-0), S Vallely; L Grimley; N Smith (0-2), P Lappin, B Mallon, D Rafferty (1-0); C Grimley (0-5, 0-3 frees), R Grimley; R Loughran, D McMullen (0-1), Joe Sheridan (0-2); C Rafferty, A McKenna (0-2)

Subs: E Grimley for Rafferty (47), P Carr for Joe Sheridan (47), T O'Hagan for Loughran (55), R Morgan for Mallon (55)

Grange: D O'Hagan; C Toal, S Toal; S Doherty; E Hughes, D Rafferty, A O'Hagan, R Mallon; O Rafferty, E Rafferty (3-0); D Mallon, M McKenna, J Kieran; B Toal, C McKenna

Subs: O Campbell for C McKenna (41), N Fox for B Toal (47), J Toal for O Rafferty (47), C Donnelly for Hughes (52), S Cullen for R Mallon (55)

Referees: P Hughes (Crossmaglen) / K Faloon (Forkhill)