GAA Football

Armagh scratch seven-and-a-half year itch by holding off Tyrone

Armagh's Rory Grugan, shown in action against Tyrone's Sean Loughran, came on to score the decisive goal in Saturday's Dr McKenna Cup game at Healy Park. Picture Seamus Loughran
Kenny Archer at Healy Park

Dr McKenna Cup Section B, round three: Tyrone 1-15 Armagh 2-15

AMPLE (apple?) turnovers contributed to the sweet taste of success for the Orchardmen against their old rivals on Saturday but Tyrone made sure they weren't easy meat despite having to swallow a second defeat.

Indeed although they trailed by seven points on three occasions late in the first half, the hosts later rallied to within a point and only lost to a goal from substitute Rory Grugan after an uncharacteristic error from their captain for the day, Conor Meyler.

Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney even suggested that "they might be happier than us, they showed they've shaken off a bit of the jet-lag, but I was happy."

He had every right to be as his team dominated the first half, with their inside-forward line of Aidan Nugent, his Cullyhanna club-mate and first goalscorer Jason Duffy, and eventual 'man of the match' Rian O'Neill all excellent, and then saw the game out fairly comfortably despite a strong comeback from their opponents.

Tyrone joint-manager Feargal Logan acknowledged that winning the All-Ireland was a 'double-edged sword', with a delayed club championship in the county meaning "we probably are playing a bit of 'catch-up' - but, listen, hi, there'll be no excuses here in two weeks' time, we just have to get at it."

That match will be a repeat of last season's Ulster Final, against Monaghan, in the Division One opener on January 30, while Armagh will also meet Seamus McEnaney's men again in the McKenna Cup semi-final on Tuesday night at the Athletic Grounds.

Without any more McKenna Cup action, Logan said that Tyrone might well seek some challenge games, something which his predecessor Mickey Harte always shunned, but hard training will be the Red Hands' priority:

"We need time on the training field, running and work… We have plenty of time on our own now to take stock."

Tyrone certainly lacked sharpness and physicality in comparison with Armagh, especially early on. The Orchardmen picked scores off, with their full-forward trio combining for the opening goal after 13 minutes. O'Neill's long cross-field kick-pass found Nugent, who held off Liam Rafferty before setting up Cullyhanna lad Duffy to net a smart low finish despite the best efforts of home goalkeeper Darragh McAnenly.

Duffy did not return to the fray after the first water break, moments after taking his tally to 1-2, with McGeeney explaining he was withdrawn as a precaution due to feeling a tight hamstring.

Still, Armagh continued to thrive without him, sitting deep in numbers then counter-attacking at pace with accurate long kicking, extending their lead to seven even after Rafferty had finally opened Tyrone's account from play in the 23rd minute.

Former captain Mattie Donnelly then provided much-needed leadership in a Tyrone team showing nine changes from their 15-point shellacking in Cavan on Tuesday night, with stand-in skipper Meyler on his home ground one of only three other starters from the All-Ireland Final line-up, along with Frank Burns and Conn Kilpatrick.

Mattie won and converted a free, then clipped a point, to lift home hopes, and Kilpatrick boosted them further by scoring a goal from an assist by Nathan Donnelly shortly before half-time, to leave four between the teams, 1-5 to 1-9.

McGeeney then sent on Grugan and another ex-captain, Stefan Campbell, to an Armagh team which had 10 alterations from their win over Cavan, and the former soon got Armagh's first score from a free.

Two of Tyrone's three changes at the interval, Paul Donaghy and James Garrity, who came on along with little Mark McKearney, then had a great impact. Dungannon clubman Donaghy scored a neat point and a mark and Trillick's Garrity also pointed, before Donaghy added another mark. Yet Grugan had set up Aidan Forker to score and Campbell got on the scoresheet too, to leave that same gap of four points, at 1-9 to 1-13, in the 48th minute.

However, in the very next minute Tyrone scored three points from play, through debutant corner-forward Liam Nugent of the Rock, a Donaghy lob, and Meyler, to trail by the minimum margin.

Unfortunately for the Red Hands Meyler then made a rare slip, losing possession, and Armagh ruthlessly punished him. Killeavey's Conor O'Neill instantly shifted the ball onto Rian O'Neill, who kicked it into the path of Grugan, who raced on, held off Sean Loughran, and swept the ball to the net.

A Nathan Donnelly point left just that goal separating the sides at the second water-break, 1-13 to 2-13, but as both bosses sent on more subs - 10 eventually for Tyrone and nine for Armagh - the visitors eased over the line and could have won by more.

Aidan Nugent sent an easy mark wide but the imperious Rian O'Neill curled over a long-range free, then set up the former for Armagh's final score.

They really should have had a third goal when Campbell put it on a plate for Jemar Hall but McAnenly saved superbly from the Forkhill man, before Meyler concluded the scoring.

Armagh's failure to find the net more was McGeeney's only complaint: "We had three or four goal chances went a-begging, which we should be finishing, but it was good to give a couple of fellas a run-out. Aidan Nugent is coming back from his cruciate and there were four or five younger fellas."

'Geezer' was pleased to progress, but has half an eye on Dublin - and then Tyrone once more:

"We need the games, but it's about getting the balance right, getting the training, because Dublin in Croke Park is going to be a massive test for us…

"Tyrone jumped on from the beginning of the week…but we know they're not anywhere near the power they can be - in four weeks' time, second game of the league, they'll be different opposition."

Tyrone: D McAnenly; S Loughran, C Quinn, L Rafferty (0-1); R Brennan, R McCusker, F Burns; C Kilpatrick (1-0), J Oguz; N Donnelly (0-1), C Meyler (capt.) (0-2) P Herron; L Brennan (0-1 '45'), M Donnelly (0-3, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free), L Nugent (0-1.

Substitutes: K McGeary for R Brennan (26); M McKearney for Burns (h-t); J Garrity (0-1) for Herron (h-t); P Donaghy (0-4, 0-2 marks) for L Brennan (h-t); R Donnelly for Oguz (46); D McCurry (0-1 free) for Nugent (54); C Grimes for Loughran (55); T Carney for M Donnelly (59); S Hamill for N Donnelly (59); P Harte for McCusker (63).

Armagh: S Magill; P Burns, C Higgins, A Forker (0-1); C O'Neill (0-1), N Rowland, J Og Burns (0-1); Ciaran Mackin (0-1 mark), B Crealey; T Kelly, C O'Hanlon, R McQuillan (0-1); A Nugent (0-3), J Duffy (1-2), R O'Neill (0-3, 0-1 free).

Substitutes: M Shields for Duffy (19); S Campbell (0-1) for Kelly (h-t); R Grugan (1-1, 0-1 free) for O'Hanlon (h-t); J Hall for McQuillan (54); Connaire Mackin for Rowland (54); R Finn for Forker (61); J Sheridan for Shields (61); B McCambridge for Duffy (69); N Smith for C O'Neill (72).

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).

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