GAA Football

Galway hold their nerve to see off Armagh in penalty shoot-out epic at Croke Park

Galway's John Daly attempts to block as Aidan Nugent gets his shot away at Croke Park. Pic Philip Walsh
Andy Watters at Croke Park

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Galway 2-21 Armagh 3-18 (Galway win 3-1 on penalties after extra-time)

HOW do you do justice to that in a thousand words? This nerve-shredding, blood-and-thunder epic was 100 minutes of non-stop action that included 44 scores, three red cards, the first-ever penalty shoot-out at All-Ireland Championship level and countless cheers, curses, roars and, at the end, Galway smiles and Armagh tears.

A man down and six points down with time running out, Armagh conjured up two goals to send a truly Titanic encounter into extra-time and then another to force penalties.

Kicking into the Railway End that was packed with Armagh supporters, Shane Walsh stepped up first and calmly tucked the ball into the right corner. Stefan Campbell, immense throughout the game, took the Orchard opener. But his composure left him and his shot screamed high and wide.

His miss meant that Galway had their noses in front but they’d had them there regularly ever since Johnny Heaney’s goal early in the second and Armagh had kept coming back.

This time there was no coming back. Damien Comer – the target of Armagh fury at the end of normal-time when a one-in, all-in melee broke out under the Cusack Stand - took Galway’s second and followed Walsh’s route to the right corner.

Rian O’Neill, the hero of injury-time with a 47-metre free, beat Conor Gleeson with Armagh’s second but then Rob Finnerty scored and Conor Turbitt, who’d bagged a goal and a point after coming off the bench, hit the outside of the right post.

Matthew Tierney – who had left the field with blood streaming from a head wound from a clash with Greg McCabe - stepped up for the Tribesmen. If he scored Galway were through to a semi-final against Derry. Armagh supporters covered their eyes. Tierney kicked, the net bulged, Galway glee, Armagh agony. It was fitting that it was a score, not a miss, that decided it.

Rewinding right back to the start, the sides were level (0-7 apiece) at the end of a first half that Armagh dominated until 10 minutes to the break when Galway began to get to grips with their attack. The Orchardmen led 4-1 and 7-4 but points from Walsh (two frees) and Tierney sent them in level and Padraic Joyce would have been delighted with that.

Galway won the throw-in (the won all four) at the start of the second half and after Finnerty and Conor O’Neill had swapped points, Tierney cut through the Orchard defence and smashed a shot past Ethan Rafferty. It cannoned off the bar but Dylan McHugh gathered the rebound, passed it back to Tierney who found Johnny Heaney and he slapped the ball into the net to put Galway 1-8 to 0-8 ahead.

Armagh countered through Nugent and Campbell but Galway kicked on again and had extended their lead to four when Rian O’Neill (a free) and Turbitt halved the deficit.

Then Galway broke out of defence and Tierney (facing his own goal) went to lay the ball off to John Daly when McCabe caught him with what, in the old days, would have been considered a big hit. But his timing was just off and he caught Tierney high and as the Galway man left the field to have his wound seen to, McCabe followed after referee Coldrick flashed a red card.

Walsh, Comer, Paul Conroy and then Kieran Molloy reeled off four in-a-row and Armagh’s hopes hung by a thread. They’ve hung like that against Galway at Croke Park before of course and, just like in 2001, Armagh produced a trademark spell-binding fightback that makes them such a box office draw.

They needed goals and Campbell sent the ball in long and high. It dropped under the crossbar and Galway ’keeper Gleeson flapped at it under pressure from Ben Crealey. Nugent gleefully grabbed the break and found the net.

There were three in it then and soon four after Comer’s point but Armagh continued to press. Rian O’Neill won the ball brilliantly to the right of the Galway posts and handpassed across the box. Gleeson caught it but, under pressure from Nugent and Connaire Mackin, he fluffed his clearance and Turbitt side-footed the loose ball into the net.

Armagh still trailed by one and seconds remained of injury-time when Shane Walsh gifted them possession and they broke from their own half. Subs Eoin Woods and Justin Kieran were both involved and then the tireless Campbell was taken down about 47 metres from the Galway posts.

Was it kickable or was it out of range? Rian O’Neill set the ball down in the shadow of the Cusack Stand and kicked as good a free as has been seen at Croke Park. The Armagh fans cheered from the moment it left his boot and so extra-time was called for.

The players ran for the tunnel and a day that had been all about brilliant football quickly descended into chaos as an almighty row broke out. Players, subs and support staff from both counties got involved in a prolonged melee

Referee Coldrick and his linesmen and umpires discussed crime and punishment during the interval and Nugent and Sean Kelly were both red-carded before the game resumed but others – including Armagh’s Tiernan Kelly – will await the referee’s report anxiously.

Extra-time began and by the end of the first half, Galway were a point up again thanks to two Walsh frees and a Finnerty point. But Kieran and Rian O’Neill scores kept Armagh in it and their route one tactics paid off again early in the second period.

O’Neill’s long ball was allowed to bounce in the square and Ciaran Mackin jumped with Gleeson who once again failed to deal with it. The ball popped out, Grugan slapped it into the net and Armagh led by two.

Their lead didn’t last long. Billy Mannion cut from left and played in McDaid whose shot zipped into the net at the Hill end.

The pendulum swung back to Armagh and Eoin Woods capped an impressive cameo to level it before the much-maligned Jemar Hall jinked inside two defenders and stroked the ball superbly over the bar to give Armagh the lead but again they couldn’t hang on.

McDaid scored a brilliant equaliser from the right wing and when Niall Rowland’s shot caught the wind and drifted wide the game went to penalties.

Galway kept their heads as Armagh lost theirs. A sickener for the Orchard county but what a game.

Armagh: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, C O’Neill (0-1); A McKay, G McCabe, J Og Burns (0-1); S Sheridan, B Crealey; R Grugan (1-3, 0-2 frees), S Campbell (0-3), A Murnin; A Nugent (1-3, 0-1 mark), R O’Neill (0-4, 0-3 frees), J Duffy

Subs: Connaire Mackin for Sheridan (44), C Turbitt (1-1) for Murnin (44), Ciaran Mackin for McKay (55), J Kieran (0-1) for Burns (68), E Woods (0-1) for Duffy (68), M Shields for Forker (ET), J Hall (0-1) for Grugan (ET), Duffy for Crealey (ET)

Yellow card: R O’Neill (70), Morgan (72)

Red cards: McCabe (62), Nugent (70)

Galway: C Gleeson; L Silke, S Kelly, J Glynn; D McHugh, J Daly, K Molloy (0-1); P Conroy (0-1), C McDaid (1-2); P Kelly (0-1), M Tierney (0-2), J Heaney (1-0); R Finnerty (0-4), D Comer (0-3), S Walsh (0-6, 0-4 frees)

Temporary sub: F O Laoi (0-1) for McDaid (48, reversed 54), F O Laoi for Tierney (62, reversed 68)

Sub: O Laoi for Kelly (68), N Daly for Finnerty (74), O Gallagher for Walsh (79), Walsh for Daly (ET), Finnerty for Gallagher (ET), Gallagher for Heaney (ET), J Foley for Silke (ET)

Yellow card: Comer (42), McDaid (75)

Red card: S Kelly (70)

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

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