GAA Football

Stefan Campbell shows class in Armagh win, but fears for Farney firepower

Stefan Campbell showed his class in the dying moments to help Armagh secure two valuable Division One points against Monaghan on Saturday night. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran in Castleblayney

Allianz Football League Division One: Monaghan 1-12 Armagh 1-14

THE sight of Jack McCarron hobbling from the field just a few minutes into Saturday night’s Division One defeat to Armagh could assume greater significance for Monaghan as this League campaign wears on.

McCarron hasn’t had his troubles to seek during a county career beset by injury, and the extent of the damage done remains to be seen after he pulled up during Monaghan’s first foray forward, eventually replaced by Sean Jones.

With a proposed transfer from home club Currin to Scotstown the subject of scrutiny in the days before, Saturday’s early exit signalled a sorry end to a week he might wish to forget.

And, with an absentee list that is already piling up for new boss Vinny Corey, Monaghan can ill afford to be without the 29-year-old - the hero of those Houdini-esque relegation escapes in the last two campaigns - as they set about ensuring top flight survival for a ninth time in succession.

Without McCarron, the Farneyman tried their damnedest before a full house in Castleblayney. Nobody could question an ounce of what they gave. But effort and endeavour never really looked like being enough.

Sean Jones has bags of potential and posed problems at times, Stephen O'Hanlon and, in particular, Micheal Bannigan showed flashes of what they are capable of, while Conor McCarthy - reinvented to decent effect as a raiding wing-back last year - was restored to his more familiar position up top, perhaps by dint of circumstance rather than design.

Yet the threat to really strike fear into the hardest of Division One hearts just wasn’t there.

“It is an unforgiving place,” admitted Corey, for whom it doesn’t get any easier as Monaghan face All-Ireland champions Kerry in Killarney on Sunday.

“When you are down a few players you are starting to feel the pinch because you are up against the best teams, and you need boys who can do damage at the other end of the field.”

Conor McManus is more likely to return at “the business end” of the campaign – though that could come sooner rather than later - with Inniskeen forward Andrew Woods also unavailable, while Corey also confirmed that Australia-bound Allstar nominees Ryan McAnespie and Niall Kearns would play no part this year.

“We tried to talk them out of it,” said the Clontibret man, “but that was the decision they made and we are not expecting them back - though we would love to have them back.”

Armagh only ever played in fits and starts, but that was all they needed because they had the men to make their opponents pay when it mattered - a helping hand did not harm their cause either.

Trailing by three after a slow start to the first half, a belated Rory Beggan Christmas gift granted Tiernan Kelly the opportunity to haul a stuttering Orchard back into it. Gratefully grabbing a poor kick-out, the Clann Eireann man fired towards the open net as Beggan beat a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately for him it wasn’t nearly hasty enough as the ball had just crossed the line by the time he got there, the momentum that carried him into the net the final indignity in a sorry episode for the Scotstown ’stopper.

All square by the time the break arrived, Armagh produced the kind of Jekyll and Hyde second half that has become their trademark.

Perhaps sensing that Monaghan didn’t possess the firepower to go toe-to-toe, the Orchard released Aidan Forker from his full-back berth to roam further up the field, with Aaron McKay – who operated as a sweeper in the opening 35 – dropping back to pick up Jones.

It worked a treat as, for the first 10 minutes, they squeezed the life out of Monaghan, winning six straight kick-outs and stretching into a six point lead, 1-10 to 0-7.

Three of those scores came from forward marks – two from Rian O’Neill and one from Stephen Sheridan – while O’Neill warmed the cool night air with a brilliant score from out near the sideline.

Hanging just enough to drop onto the top of Beggan’s net at the last, the net’s ripple added the dramatic flourish the Crossmaglen man’s mastery merited. Substitute Jason Duffy and Andy Murnin added more for good measure as Kieran McGeeney’s men finally warmed to the task.

It looked as though Armagh would go on and stretch their legs but instead they went 19 minutes without troubling the scoreboard again, with Monaghan eventually closing the gap to one.

This time it was Beggan’s opposite number, Ethan Rafferty, throwing out the lifeline after colliding with McCarthy in the square. The Scotstown man dusted himself to slam home the penalty, breathing new life into the Farney challenge.

But as the wides continued to rack up, Monaghan missed their chance to truly capitalise on the Orchard’s indecision. And, with two precious League points still up for grabs, it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.

After an underwhelming performance up to that point, Stefan Campbell who seized the day, galloping forward and firing over two sizzling scores as the end of normal time neared to suck the wind from Farney sails and help edge Armagh over the line.

“It’s a good result, two points on the board, and back focused trying to get ready for Mayo at the weekend,” said selector Kieran Donaghy, who paid tribute to the crucial late intervention of their Lurgan sharpshooter.

“Soupy’s a huge leader in that group. Maybe he didn’t have the greatest of first halves by his own standards, and you have to give a player a huge amount of credit when that’s happening, because that’s really when character comes to the fore.

“When everything’s going well, players can do stuff where fans are oohing and aahing, but for him to do that when he wasn’t having the best of days, to come up and kick those two points was massive.”

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, free); T McPhillips, K Duffy, C Boyle; Kevin Loughran, R Wylie, Colm Lennon; K Lavelle, D Ward (0-1); J Wilson, M Bannigan (0-4, 0-1 free), S O'Hanlon (0-2); S Carey (0-1); C McCarthy (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees), J McCarron. Subs: S Jones (0-1) for McCarron (2), K O'Connell for Lennon (HT), K Gallagher for Wilson (52), S Slevin for Loughran (70+2)

Yellow cards: R Beggan (41), D Ward (70+4)

Armagh: E Rafferty (0-1); A Forker, R Finn; A McKay; C O’Neill, B McCambridge, J Óg Burns; S Sheridan (0-1, mark), S Campbell (0-2); J Hall, R Grugan (0-1, free), T Kelly (1-0); R O’Neill (0-5, 0-2 marks, 0-1 free), A Murnin (0-1), A Nugent (0-2). Subs: J Duffy for Hall (HT), N Grimley for Sheridan (58), R McQuillan (0-1) for Murnin (64)

Yellow cards: J Hall (35+3), B McCambridge (45), E Rafferty (53)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

GAA Football