Armagh edge out fierce rivals
Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 3-10
A welcome glint of silverware finally pierced the Armagh gloom when Kieran McGeeney's restructured outfit firmly wrested the O'Fiaich Cup from the hands of their neighbours and great rivals Tyrone at Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen.
It's certainly a timely Christmas present for a side facing the daunting prospect of a tough section in the Dr McKenna Cup and a tough itinerary in Division Three of the Allianz League, but although one swallow may not make a summer, there was a suggestion on this occasion that Armagh could perhaps go on to even more meaningful success.
For the moment, though, Orchard County minds are sharply focused, feet remain firmly on the ground and reality must of necessity underpin any assessment of yesterday's feisty proceedings.
In winning the first trophy on offer in the new campaign, McGeeney's men, seven of whom were new to inter-county action, certainly did it very much the hard way.
They conceded the midfield battle for the most part, lost goalkeeper Paddy Morrison to injury before half-time and then saw impressive centre-half-forward Conor White and skipper Aidan Forker incur red cards in a rugged, often fractious second-half.
That they managed to withstand Tyrone's last quarter flourish and land two breakaway points through Paul Hughes and lively substitute Stefan Campbell says much for Armagh's commitment and attitude. And if the team's collective approach and spirit were admirable, then tall, lean Grange clubman Ethan Rafferty proved very much the man of the moment.
His superb goals in the 23rd and 37th minutes complemented Conor White's spectacular 15th minute strike and ensured that there was always sufficient daylight between the sides for his side not to be intimidated by the visitors' reputation.
Rafferty embossed his goal-scoring flair by showing his penchant for landing long-range scores and his three points - one from play, another from a '45' and the third from a free - cemented his versatility.
Little wonder when he made his exit in the 65th minute to be replaced by Aaron Findon he was accorded the biggest cheer of the day.
The early arrival of substitutes Peter Harte and Niall Sludden had served to steady the Red Hands and they appeared to have gained considerably in confidence when they levelled matters at 1-4 to 0-7 in the 27th minute through a Cathal McShane point.
But Rafferty's first goal and a Rory Grugan point sent the hosts in at the break with a 2-5 to 0-7 lead in a match in which they were never headed.
They looked to have courted disaster when first White and then Forker exited the stage but their resilience, stamina and courage were to prove valuable assets as they closed out a game that provided both managers with much food for thought -and offered Armagh the incentive to prove themselves on a bigger stage sooner rather than later.
Armagh: P Morrison; P Hughes 0-1, B Donaghy, R McCaughley; J McElroy, S Heffron, C Higgins; B Crealey 0-1, S Sheridan; A Forker, C White 1-0, R Grugan 0-2 (1f); A Duffy 0-1, E Rafferty 2-3 (1f, 1 '45'), O MacIomhair 0-1. Subs: M McNeice for Morrison (27), C Campbell 0-1 for Duffy (51), A McKay for Heffron (62), C Vernon for Higgins (62), A Findon for Rafferty (65), J Hall for MacIomhair (72). Yellow cards: Rafferty (4), Forker (31), Donaghy (50), McCaughley (50), Sheridan (62). Red cards: White (47), Forker (54).
Tyrone: M O'Neill; R Mullan, H P McGeary, M Cassidy 0-1; H Loughran 0-1, J Munroe, C Meyler; C Clarke, C McShane 0-1; D McClure 0-2, R O'Neill 0-6 (5f), C McCullagh 0-1; D McCurry, N McKenna, R McHugh. Subs: P Harte for Clarke (14), N Sludden for Mullan (20), A McCrory for McCullagh (Half-time), L Brennan 0-1 for McKenna (44), F Burns for McHugh (49). Yellow cards: Munroe (39), McCurry (50), Burns (50), McGeary (66).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).