GAA Football

Plan sailing as Armagh save their skins on Division One D-Day

Armagh captain Stefan Campbell drives at the Roscommon defence during yesterday's relegation play-off at the Athletic Grounds. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at the Athletic Grounds

Allianz NFL Division One relegation play-off: Armagh 1-17 Roscommon 0-11

IN the end there was no panic, no late drama, none of the jangling nerves we have almost come to expect with Armagh – nothing but cool, calm control as their Division One status was preserved with plenty to spare, while Roscommon bowed out of the top flight with barely a whimper.

Indeed, unlike the final quarter bother that saw Donegal snatch a late draw a fortnight earlier, any uncomfortable moments the Orchard endured came in the first 15 before Kieran McGeeney’s men assumed total control.

Roscommon must wonder how it went so badly wrong. After opting to play with the breeze from the start, they moved into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead by the 13 minute mark, and were good value for it, Ciaran and Diarmuid Murtagh more dangerous than Robin Swann any time they found space on the wings.

At that stage, they looked set to stretch their legs out and increase that advantage as Armagh struggled to find a rhythm, some poor handling proving costly.

The decision to start Aidan Forker, returning from an ankle injury that was expected to keep him out of contention altogether, appeared ill-judged after the initial exchanges, the Maghery man finding Diarmuid Murtagh tough to contain.

However, a point from Andy Murnin - making his first start in over a year - after clever work from Rian O’Neill and Rory Grugan closed the gap to three. Connaire Mackin’s brilliant interception in the lead up gave the 400-strong home support call to properly clear their throats.

The water break came seconds later and, from that point on, whatever momentum Roscommon had mustered was killed stone dead as Armagh finally found some inspiration. Niall Grimley took a huge catch from Colm Lavin’s kick-out straight after the restart before feeding Rian O’Neill who applied the finish.

Less than a minute later Jemar Hall, whose foraging and tenacity in the tackle helped pull the Orchard up by the bootstraps, crept in around the edge of the square to fist over.

Deployed as a makeshift full-forward when Murnin drifted out around the middle, Hall took a mark from a beautiful Rory Grugan pass, the Forkhill man converting to level it up. This was just four minutes after the water break, and Armagh didn’t look back.

All of a sudden any uncertainty left them and their play flowed, thanks largely to the impact of Rian O’Neill who roamed here, there and everywhere, seemingly emerging with the ball every time.

His ability to find that yard of space and execute the pass no-one sees, all in the space of a split second, is a constant reminder of the remarkable talent Armagh have at their disposal – and he’s still only 22.

When big brother Oisin scored the game’s only goal five minutes before the break to make it 1-6 to 0-5, you could see the air going out of the Roscommon balloon. Again Hall was the catalyst, forcing an error from Richard Hughes – taken off a few minutes later – before finding O’Neill in space, the Crossmaglen man making no mistake.

Conor Cox registered Roscommon’s first score for 20 minutes before half-time but it remained one-way traffic after the break. Armagh won possession from the throw-in, sent it in long to Murnin who took the mark and converted it.

With the swirling breeze at their backs, the Orchardmen did what McGeeney has been urging them to do forever – they kept their heads, and kept the scoreboard ticking over. Harsh lessons have been learnt over time, most recently against the Tir Chonaill, but there was no giddiness as Roscommon never looked remotely likely to get back into the game.

The Armagh defence has to take major credit for that, so often forcing the Rossies down blind alleys and into silly shots they hadn’t the confidence to execute, rarely over-committing in the tackle. And when the ball came back the other way, the O’Neills, Grugan and captain Stefan Campbell were fit to capitalise.

Job done, and a crack at some more of the big boys next year secured. That will be a weight off McGeeney’s mind as thoughts now turn to Antrim in three weeks, the Championship promising another acid test of Orchard credentials.

Armagh: B Hughes; R Finn, A Forker, G McCabe (0-1); C Mackin, A McKay, C O’Hanlon; N Grimley (0-1), O O’Neill (1-1); J Hall (0-3, 0-1 mark), R O’Neill (0-5, 0-2 free, 0-1 mark), T Kelly, S Campbell (0-1); R Grugan (0-3, 0-2 frees), A Murnin (0-2, 0-1 mark). Subs: J Og Burns for Kelly (41), C Turbitt for Murnin (41), C O’Neill for Hall (48), R Kennedy for Forker (57), B Donaghy for O’Hanlon (65), J Morgan for McKay (67)

Yellow cards: A Forker (6), T Kelly (27), J Hall (35)

Black card: O O’Neill (70+3)

Roscommon: C Lavin; D Murray, C Daly, B Stack; R Daly, C Hussey, R Hughes; E Smith, T O’Rourke; N Kilroy, C Murtagh (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark), S Killoran; D Murtagh (0-3, 0-1 free), D Smith, C Cox (0-4, 0-2 frees). Subs: N Daly (0-1) for Hughes (31), F Lennon for R Daly (HT), E Nolan for E Smith (HT), C Devaney for Killoran (43), C Cregg for Kilroy (43), C McKeon for D Murtagh (54), C Lennon for D Smith (54). Blood sub: H Darcy for C Devaney (64, reversed 67)

Yellow cards: C Daly (24), T O’Rourke (68)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

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