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Armagh triumph leaves McGrath to mull over his Fermanagh future

Armagh 0-20 Fermanagh 0-11

By John Campbell

Armagh atoned for their setback against Down in the Ulster Championship to some extent when they overcame Fermanagh rather comfortably in this All-Ireland qualifier at the Athletic Grounds last night.

The orchard county dominated the second-half particularly after Fermanagh lost their skipper Eoin Donnelly to a second yellow card.

For the home side, this was a much-needed lift but improvements are certainly required if they hope to advance further.

And no one recognises that more than stand-in manager John Toal who is currently filling the breach caused by Kieran McGeeney's suspension.

"While we are very happy with this win we know that there is room for improvement," said Toal, "But this is still essentially a young, maturing side. The loss to Down in the Ulster Championship was a big blow to us and we are just glad to have now got over this first hurdle in the qualifiers. We know there are bigger challenges ahead and we have to be ready for them."

Armagh were guilty of wasting scoring chances in the first quarter to the extent that they shot half-a-dozen wides in that period as Fermanagh in contrast profited from their hosts' penchant for conceding frees.

Tomas Corrigan did much to raise Fermanagh's spirits by landing three points from frees and with Ryan Lyons and Eoin Donnelly also on target, the visitors led by 0-5 to 0-2 with Andrew Murnin and Rory Grugan landing Armagh's scores.

But the home team's physicality, pace and positional play saw them reap a rich harvest between the 23rd and 33rd minutes.

Skipper Grugan was unerring from frees, his brace of points along with scores from Murnin, Jamie Clarke and the hard-working Ciaron O'Hanlon helping to thrust the side into a 0-7 to 0-5 lead.

It was Corrigan who again responded for Fermanagh, again from a free, before Grugan brought his first-half tally to four to ease his side into a 0-8 to 0-6 interval lead.

But when Niall Grimley imposed himself at midfield and Jamie Clarke joined Stefan Campbell in discomfiting the Fermanagh defence, Armagh prospered.

Grimley's accuracy from frees - he potted five and added another point from play - underpinned Armagh's scoring while Brendan Donaghy and Charlie Vernon helped shore up defence.

Fermanagh were forced to rely heavily on Corrigan for their scores and his six points from frees helped to keep them afloat but just five points from play was indicative of their inability to snap up chances from play.

Even the introduction of Sean Quigley and Ruairi Corrigan failed to galvanise Fermanagh as they made little headway against the tough-tackling Armagh defence which yielded little.

Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath confirmed that he will take "a few days" in which to mull over his future.

It is known that the county board is keen to retain his services but McGrath will assess his situation.

"Obviously it was disappointing to lose this game but Armagh were physically stronger than we were and they scored points at crucial stages. Once they opened up a five-point gap we knew it was going to be difficult," he said.

Meanwhile, Cavan beat Offaly by 1-17 to 0-16 in their All-Ireland qualifier at Tullamore where Gearoid McKiernan's 43rd minute goal underpinned their victory after they had led by 0-11 to 0-9 at the break. Even though they had James McEnroe dismissed in the second half, Cavan still managed to produce a strong finish.

Armagh: Hughes; O'Hanlon 0-1, Vernon, McKay; Forker, Donaghy, Hughes; Sheridan, Grimley 0-6 (5f); Shields, Duffy, R Grugan 0-5 (5f); Clarke 0-3, Murnin 0-2, G McParland. Subs: Campbell 0-2 for Murnin (39), McKeever for O'Hanlon, Rafferty (0-1) for McParland (67), O'Neill for Grugan (67).

Yellow Cards: Murnin (31), Vernon (61).

Fermanagh: Snow; M Jones, Cullen, McManus; Breen, McCluskey, Murphy; Donnelly 0-1, Cullen; Mulrone, Lyons 0-2, P McCusker; McCusker, Hyde, Corrigan 0-6 (6f). Subs: Corrigan for Hyde (23), Quigley 0-2 for Corrigan (46), Teague for Murphy (59), K Connor for M Jones (68).

Yellow Cards: C Cullen (31), L Cullen (54). Red Card: Donnelly (57)

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).

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