Roscommon 1-12 Armagh 1-17
Armagh out-flanked, out-witted and out-muscled a somewhat naive Roscommon side last Saturday at Doctor Hyde Park to secure a last 12 place against Meath in the All-Ireland Qualifiers which have been pencilled in for Saturday, August 2 in Croke Park.
Paul Grimley’s team will line out at the Jones Road venue as part of a double header which also sees beaten Ulster finalists Monaghan play Kildare. With the winners from the Armagh-Meath game moving forward to play Donegal, the motivation for Grimley’s team is huge.
Armagh, who had played four tough games in as many weeks, will have a break before they travel to Croke Park and although the Royal County looked devastated following their 17 points defeat to the Dubs in last Sunday’s Leinster final, John Evans’ side will still provide a major test.
Still silent in media circles, Armagh have closed up shop both on and off the field, and their two pronged attack which has resulted in a defence mechanism being utilised to focus players solely on the job in hand has worked, at least thus far.
Being totally realistic, it should be noted Armagh to date have beaten a Tyrone side on the slide and a Roscommon outfit who in 2014 hailed from the Third Division, yet there was a lot to be admired about the way the Orchard County went about their business last Saturday in Hyde Park. They used their subs well, used the ball cleverly and were always able to raise a response when the home side looked to be a threat. The Rossies never headed Grimley’s side and, although at one stage they pulled the visitors back to a two point margin, Stefan Forker’s goal near the end gave the winners a cushion which was particularly welcome considering that Ciaran Murtagh grabbed a consolation goal for a well beaten Roscommon team.
Following his hamstring injury Armagh are nursing Aaron Kernan back into each game in a staggered fashion, he was again kept on the bench until the second half, but when introduced his pace and guile caused Roscommon huge problems, particularly in the last quarter when some of their players appeared to be flagging.
Roscommon did little to help their own cause; they kicked 11 wides over the course of the game on a day when they struggled to cope with the tenacious tackling of Andy Mallon, Charlie Vernon and James Morgan. Once again the Armagh scores came from various sources; nine players in total registered on the day including wing back Andy Mallon, midfielders Aaron Finden, Steven Harold and substitutes Ruairi Grugan and Stefan Forker who both played telling roles. Crossmaglen’s Kyle Carragher was particularly busy throughout the game and the industry of Stefan Campbell, this time in a deeper role, Tony Kernan and Jamie Clarke who was given a roving commission all impressed for the visitors who deserved their 5 points win.
It was Armagh’s skipper Ciaran McKeever who deservedly received the man of the match award and plaudits from various quarters, the Cullyhanna native’s composure on the ball and scything passes were the highlights of a game which despite at times being scrappy was always interesting both on a tactical and technical front.
Next up for Paul Grimley’s men is that encounter against Meath, a game the Ulster men could well be fancied to win.
In an era of under-achievement, reaching an All-Ireland quarter final was always going to be a bonus, but with a new assistant manager, a change of tactics and the new-found confidence which is evident around the county, Armagh will be very hard to beat. A measure of consistency has been created and the return of Kieran McGeeney has resulted in a new dawn, at least in terms of tactics and protocol. With Grimley set to step down at the end of the current campaign this newer, all-consuming focus in the squad could continue on for a while yet.