Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney achieved his intermediate target when his side landed the Division 2 title at Croke Park on Sunday and the Orchard County now have six weeks to prepare for an Ulster clash with either Donegal or Tyrone.
Although Pete McGrath’s Fermanagh outfit were quickest out of the blocks, and led by three points in the early stages, the winners bossed the game particularly from the quarter mark and made light off the dismissal of Wolfe Tones player Finnian Moriarty who received a second yellow card on 25 minutes.
Fermanagh, who lacked the firepower to win the game, looked naive at times, while they would rue their 12 wides hit over the 70 minutes, the Erne side found Armagh in determined mood and despite the fact McGeeney was forced to tweak his line-out before the start, the players brought in showed their worth.
Ciaran McKeever and Aaron Findon failed to make the cut, but McKeever had the luxury of lifting the cup having been introduced in the second period.
Armagh welcomed back Kevin Dyas who had missed most of the National League campaign, and Andrew Murnan returned to the venue where he had launched his career back in 2009 when his was part of a successful All-Ireland winning minor side.
The winners missed several goal opportunities throughout the game, Aidan Forker blasted over inside the first 10 minutes when bearing down on goal and just before the break Murnan had a shot blocked on the line by Fermanagh keeper Thomas Tierney who got across to keep his side in touch at the break on a scoreline of 0-08 to 0-06
While few supporters would be getting carried away with the winning of the Division 3 title, McGeeney’s outfit for the first time this season played with a pattern and shape which can provide new hope for the Ulster series.
Speaking in the weeks before the game Armagh’s star forward Jamie Clarke suggested that his new deeper role had provided him with a lot more freedom. Clarke against Fermanagh thrived on the Croke Park surface, although scoring just two points he was in sparkling form and along with Murnan in particular can be a threat on the Provincial stage.
Fermanagh boss McGrath said his side have lessons to learn but stressed that they will improve.
”We can learn from this game,” he said. “I know we have lessons to learn, but win or lose our ambition was to get back to Division 2 and we have achieved that.”
Armagh’s commendable win which was achieved with 14 men following Moriarty’s dismissal on 25 minutes will provide a marker for the pending Ulster Championship,.
The squad is stronger than last season and the introduction of McKeever, Eugene McVerry, Steven Harold who hit two points, Gavin McPartland and Caolin Rafferty can all push for Championship places.
Fermanagh, despite the defeat, had a number of outstanding players. Thomas Corrigan hit three points on the night in a comprehensive performance, Tierney in goals thwarted the winners on several occasions and up front Sean Quigley although striking several wides proved a handful for Armagh full back Charlie Vernon.
Corrigan and Quigley at the double opened the scoring for Fermanagh as Armagh struggled to gain a foothold, Tony Kernan steadied the ship with a pointed free after Murnan had been fouled close in, Clarke responded to a Corrigan free for Fermanagh and the winners moved up a gear to take the lead with scores from Tony Kernan 0-02 and Aidan Forker who blasted over from the 14 on 22 minutes.
Kevin Dyas had a guilt edged opportunity to give his side a comfortable lead at the break but having been put through by Murnan the Dromintee player was thwarted by Treacy in the Fermanagh goals. Armagh found their feet in the second half, manager McGeeney introduced skipper Ciaran McKeever into a re-structured defensive system which saw the effective Michael McKenna making way and the winners shot four points in a row before the quarter mark to sustain a match winning lead.
Tight at the back and mobile up front the winners grew in confidence as the game progressed. New boy Ciaran O’Hanlon, Dyas and Harold all shot over as the Erne men responded in token fashion with points from Quigley and Corrigan. winning with a little in hand.
Armagh played with a fluency missing from previous league games, while Fermanagh were ordinary the winners were effective without being totally impressive at Croke Park.