Orchard county champions Maghery see off Armagh Harps in opener
Armagh Senior Football Championship round one: Maghery 1-8 Armagh Harps 0-9
From Andy Watters at The Athletic Grounds
DEFENDING champions Maghery got the defence of their Gerry Fegan Cup off to an unconvincing start on Saturday night with a scrappy victory over mis-firing Armagh Harps.
Brian Fox's well-taken goal had left six between the sides after 43 minutes but the loughshore outfit failed to score again in the game and the Harps – who didn't score until the 21st minute – could have nicked it at the death.
The city side whittled away at the lead through scores from Tom O'Kane and Joe McElroy but Maghery held out thanks to some determined defending and trademark high fielding from veteran James Lavery and progressed to the quarter-finals.
Of course, a win, is a win at this stage of the competition but Finnian Moriarty's men will know they have work to do to hold onto their hard-won crown.
“I think we were the better team over the 60 minutes but it you don't take your chances then you're always going to get sucked back in in the last 10-15 minutes of a championship match,” said Moriarty.
“We were masters of our own downfall in that respect because Stefan (Forker) had a goal chance, David (Lavery) had a goal chance but we didn't take them. We had a few big performances at the back, coming out with the ball in the last 15 minutes from Stefan Cusack, Brian McIlmurray and boys like that.
“I don't think they looked like scoring a goal but there's always that tension when the ball is thrown in around the square and lucky enough blue and yellow were coming out with it each time.”
Cusack finished the game well and he started it well too. The number six got forward twice to score as Maghery went three points ahead and Brian Fox could have doubled that when he seized on a poor clearance from Paddy Morrison (who had just saved bravely from Aidan Forker) and smashed a shot off the crossbar.
That lucky escape didn't wake up the Harps though and – with Ben Crealey and James Lavery winning the midfield battle – Aidan Forker had added another before Oisin Hughes finally opened their account with a quality catch, turn and finish.
But Maghery, using the long ball to Ronan Lappin and Aidan Forker with good effect, scored the next three before a late Harps rally left it 0-7 to 0-3 at the break.
Harps had the chances to make up that deficit early in the second half. They failed to take them but Ryan McShane carried the fight to Maghery and his industry created back-to-back chances for O'Kane who left two in it.
Lavery rose highest in midfield to claim the next kick-out and then launched the ball high and long towards Fox. Defender Colm Hicks could only get his fingertips to the ball and Fox gleefully accepted the chance, burying his shot past Morrison. A Stefan Forker free left it 1-8 to 0-5 and the Harps threw on Ultan Lennon as they searched desperately for a way back into the game.
They rode their luck at one end – Morrison saved well with Stefan Forker and David Lavery – and chipped away at the other with two each from O'Kane and McIlroy but Maghery weathered the late storm and progressed to the last eight.
“We left ourselves a lot to do in the second half,” said Harps' assistant-manager Conor Coulter.
“Maybe it was championship nerves but we didn't get out of the traps until after the first water break and over the course of the game composure really cost us. Championships are about turning up and, full credit to Maghery, they turned up as they always do.
“The lads feel that it's one we've left behind but that's championship football – you can't afford to miss 15 minutes of a game like this.”
Armagh Harps: P Morrison; C Hicks, S Farry, C Stevenson; D Murphy, D McKenna, J McElroy (0-2, 0-1 free); K Loughran, C Vernon; J McEvoy, M McCoy, C Murphy (0-1); O Hughes (0-1), T O'Kane (0-5, 0-1 free, 0-1 Mark), R McShane
Substitute: C McQuaid for Loughran (26), U Lennon for J McCoy (46), C Lavery for M McCoy (51), T Turley for C Murphy (59)
Blood sub: C McQuaid for McElroy (10)
Yellow cards: C Murphy (19), O Hughes (41)
Maghery: C Hendron; O Lappin, C Higgins, B Crealey; B Haveron, S Cusack (0-2), E Scullion; J Lavery, R Lappin; J Mackle, B McIlmurray, S Forker (0-4, 0-3 frees); B Fox (1-0), A Forker (0-1), O Cushnahan (0-1)
Substitutes: K Nugent for Mackle (36), K Robinson for O Cushnahan (45), D Lavery for Campbell (54), M Mackle for Lappin (59)
Blood subs: K Nugent for Mackle (22), G Campbell for Higgins (22)
Yellow cards: S Cusack (14), S Forker (19)
Referee: K Falloon