A second-half goal rush inspired by Ronan Clarke and executed for the most part by Ryan Henderson not only took Armagh past the vibrant challenge of Queen’s at Lurgan yesterday but has thrust them into the frame for a semi-final place in the Gaelic Life Dr McKenna Cup.
Yet the prospect of seeing his side feature in the closing stages of the competition was hardly even a dot on the horizon at half-time for Orchard county boss Peter McDonnell
They trailed by 0-10 to 0-2 and looked in grave danger of suffering acute embarrassment.
To add insult to injury, it was Armagh’s Charlie Vernon, adorning the Queen’s colours on this occasion, who provided the dynamic for the students’ early blitz which was highlighted by fluent movement, clever support play and clinical finishing, particularly from Derry ace James Kielt who grabbed four points. Vernon himself contributed two and Conor Maginn, Ciaran Leonard, Shaun O’Neill and enterprising substitute Joe O’Kane also scored.
But when the imposing Clarke made his presence felt in the second-half, the Queen’s rearguard wilted. Clarke’s use of space, intelligent probing and incisive passing were instrumental in hauling Armagh back from the precipice.
He drilled in their first goal in the 48th minute, did the spadework for a second from Ryan Henderson in the 62nd minute and had a hand in the third, also from Henderson, that saw Armagh sweep into a 3-5 to 0-12 lead with seven minutes left to play.
There was simply no way back for Queen’s and their manager Aidan O’Rourke, who played for Armagh in their win over Antrim last week, said afterwards: “I felt we were not ruthless enough in the first-half when we were on top. We let Armagh back into the game and they finished strongly.”
Home boss Peter McDonnell, whose side now go to Cavan on Saturday where victory will guarantee them a semi-final slot, admitted that his team’s patchy first-half performance had not been encouraging.
“Obviously the class of Ronan Clarke told in the end – he was the difference between the sides - and it was good to see Ryan Henderson finish with an impressive personal haul.
“The conditions were difficult for players in the full-forward line but I thought we stuck at it well,” said McDonnell.
ARMAGH: P McEvoy; G Smyth, B Donaghy, B Shannon; J P Donnelly, T McClelland, C Rafferty; V Martin, M Mackin; C Clarke, Martin O’Rourke (0-3, all frees), R Henderson (2-3); Micheal O’Rourke, R Clarke (1-0), B Mallon. Substitutes: S O’Neill for C Clarke (42 mins), K O’Rourke for Martin (55 mins), E McDonnell for Mackin (54 mins). Yellow card substitutions: B Toner for Martin O’Rourke (54 mins), N O’Rourke for Donaghy (56 mins).
QUEEN’S: F Murphy; L Howard, N McGovern, H Gallagher; R Dillon, D O’Hagan, J Crozier; P Courtney, C Vernon (0-2): B McArdle, C McGinn (0-1), S L McGoldrick; J Kielt (0-5, 0-3 frees), S O’Neill (0-1), C Leonard (0-1), Substitutions: L Morrow for Crozier (32 mins), M Ward for Leonard (half-time), C Byrne (0-1) for O’Hagan (55 mins). Yellow card substitutions: J O’Kane (0-1) for Courtney (25 mins).
Referee: D McQuillan (Monaghan).