Controversy reigns as Armagh denied the points against Monaghan
Allianz National Football League Division One: Armagh 1-6 Monaghan 0-10
BEFORE delving into the forensics and controversies of Saturday night’s pulsating encounter in the Cathedral city, sometimes it’s good to pause and tip our hats to both sets of players for the incredible entertainment they produced.
Games like these illuminate cold, dark February nights. Played on heavy sod, sometimes in sheeting rain, over 11,000 people crammed into The Athletic Grounds and left enhanced by the experience.
The Armagh and Monaghan players gave an impossible amount of themselves in trying to win this Division One clash – so much so that their limbs won’t feel like their own until Wednesday.
Neither team deserved to lose, and that’s how it ended up – a diplomatic draw between cheek-by-jowl neighbours in what was a brilliant collision of styles.
Seamus McEnaney openly admitted he would’ve taken a draw before Saturday night’s game, but given how Monaghan played part of the second half with 13 men – after Conor McManus’s 41st minute red card and Dessie Ward’s black 10 minutes later – it felt like a point gained from the visitors’ perspective.
“I thought we played some really good football in the first half but again maybe our execution let us down a wee bit and we probably should have been further ahead at half-time,” said ‘Banty’.
“We showed unbelievable character playing with 13 men… It was a full 11-and-a-half minutes before we got our man [Dessie Ward] back in... We were disappointed with that but I’m really proud of the character the team showed. It was a real manly performance.”
McManus had tagged on four points before his red card while Michael Bannigan and Cillian Lavelle hit eye-catching first-half scores, largely down to Monaghan boxing in Armagh from their own kick-outs.
For this Monaghan team, possession is 10-tenths of the law. There was so much to admire in the way they constantly changed the angle of their attacks against a sea of orange, withdrawing the ball one minute and suddenly darting down the narrowest of corridors the next to get a shot off.
It wasn’t just corridors Armagh allowed Monaghan to run down during last July’s memorable Ulster semi-final, it was wide open prairies.
There was never going to be a repeat of that on Saturday night.
Even though Monaghan should have put more on the scoreboard by half-time, leading 0-8 to 0-4, Armagh were defensively more savvy than seven months ago, as they erected a thousand more road blocks to keep out the likes of Darren Hughes and Ryan McAnespie.
A glowing feature of this Armagh team is how they attack. They hold absolutely nothing back.
Every time they won a hard-earned turnover inside their own ’45, an electric surge swept through the main stand as orange jerseys raced forward with blinding pace and attacking clarity.
For all of Armagh and Monaghan’s qualities, Saturday’s encounter was low-scoring but it still made for compelling viewing.
In the dying seconds and chasing a winning point, 14-man Monaghan finally managed to usher the ball to one of their shooters Jack McCarron but just as he was about to pull the trigger, enough Armagh men had got close enough to make him think better of it.
Even though they trailed by four points at the break, Kieran McGeeney was the more disappointed of the two managers.
‘Geezer’ was rightly miffed at Rian O’Neill’s 51st minute penalty being ruled ‘no goal’ even though it had comfortably crossed the goal-line – a decision the two umpires and referee Barry Cassidy between them really shouldn’t have got wrong.
Before his press briefing outside the changing room, McGeeney had already seen footage of O’Neill’s penalty bounce over the goal-line.
On how the game unfolded, the Armagh boss said: “I thought we were doing okay in the first half apart from that one period when we shipped two or three points and we were playing against the breeze.
“Monaghan are a good side…You’re playing against a really good team that are good at holding possession. They’re probably the best at it in the country.
“They are one of the wiliest teams, [they have] good structure and can get those free-kicks when they need them, maybe a bit easier than we can. But that’s a skill in itself.
“But they are the games we want to play in; we’ve been in those situations before and let it slip. Even when things are going against you – not getting the penalty, missing those easy scores, it’s easy to down tools but they didn’t and that’s something we’re proud of and it’s a really progressive step for us.”
O'Neill's penalty would have reduced Monaghan’s lead to 0-9 to 1-4 with the visitors reduced to 13 men during that crucial period.
Ten minutes earlier, Conor McManus had been red-carded for an off-the-ball altercation with Aidan Forker and Dessie Ward was subsequently sin-binned for hauling Rory Grugan to the ground that resulted in the penalty.
Between the 51st and 62nd minutes, Armagh made hay by hitting 1-3 without reply when their opponents were down to 13 men.
After O’Neill’s penalty bounced behind the line and away to safety, the home side found the net two minutes later after fantastic pressure from Armagh resulted in Ryan Wylie coughing up possession.
The O’Neill brothers – Rian and Oisin – combined and the ball was put on a plate for substitute Conor Turbitt to lash home from close range.
During their second-half ascendancy, Stefan ‘Soupy’ Campbell and the impressive TJ Kelly nailed beauties from distance and Oisin O’Neill got in on the scoring act too as Armagh edged ahead 1-7 to 0-9 with eight minutes of normal time remaning.
But McCarron ended the Farneymen’s second-half scoring drought that last over a half hour by nabbing a 70th minute free to level the game.
Monaghan will rue Michael Bannigan hitting the post, just seconds before McManus was dismissed - but still unbeaten Armagh had chances themselves to seal the points.
That said, both sides will move on from this epic contest with a spring in their step.
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A Forker, A McKay; C Mackin, N Rowland, J Og Burns; C Mackin, S Sheridan; J Hall, R Grugan TJ Kelly (0-1); J Duffy (0-1), R O’Neill (0-2 frees), A Nugent Subs: C Turbitt (1-1) for R O’Neill (28), S Campbell (0-1) for N Rowland (h/t), O O’Neill (0-1) for S Sheridan (h/t), R O’Neill for J Duffy (46), M Shields for J Hall (57), N Grimley for C Mackin (65)
Yellow cards: TJ Kelly (30), R O’Neill (57)
Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; R McAnespie (0-1), D Ward, C Lavelle (0-1); D Hughes, N Kearns; M Bannigan (0-1), S Carey (0-1), A Woods; J McCarron (0-2 frees), C McManus (0-4, 0-2 frees), G Mohan Subs: K Hughes for N Kearns (18), K O’Connell for R McAnespie (50), C Walshe for A Woods (54), A Mulligan for G Mohan (62)
Yellow cards: C Lavelle (30), J McCarron (46)
Red card: C McManus (41)
Black card: D Ward (51 to 61)
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)