Armagh collected two valuable league points following their fully deserved victory over Mayo in McHale Park, Castlebar yesterday.
While the elements did their best to put a damper on the game, which had two added attractions for supporters — the arrival of the new Taoiseach, Mayo man Enda Kenny, for the game and the fact that Billy Joe Padden was playing against his native county for the very first time — it was nevertheless a hard-fought contest and the 4,500 crowd were treated to some fine scores.
In the end, there was no denying Armagh, who worked extremely hard throughout.
The visitors laid the foundations for their win in the opening half when assisted by the strong wind, as they built up a healthy six-point half-time lead.
Indeed, the lead could have been much larger only for a Mayo goal late in the half.
While it was a very good team performance by Armagh, three players stood out, Ciaran McKeever at centre half-back, midfielder Charlie Vernon and Steven McDonnell up front.
Armagh got off to a cracking start and had the ball in the back of the Mayo net with just 20 seconds gone. Vernon, after winning the throw in, set up a move involving Gareth Swift, Malachy Mackin and ending with Brian Mallon placing the ball brilliantly in the back of the net.
Although Mayo replied with an Andy Moran point, it was the visitors who dominated much of the remainder of the half. McDonnell and Aidan Campbell exchanged points before Armagh made their dominance pay where it mattered most — on the scoreboard.
A pointed free by McDonnell was followed by Armagh’s second goal in the 17th minute.
McDonnell was already causing the Mayo backs a lot of trouble and he sent an inch-perfect pass to the on-running wing-back Paul
Duffy, who carried the ball 30 yards before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.
Armagh extended their lead to eight points after Kieran Toner and McDonnell raised white flags, but Mayo were handed a lifeline on 35 minutes when Jason Doherty rounded both Padden and goalkeeper Philip McEvoy before placing the ball in the net.
However, McDonnell had the final say when he pointed a minute into stoppage time to leave his side 2-6 to 1-3 in front at the break.
On the restart, Mayo who now had the strong wind in their backs, reduced the deficit to four points after early points from Doherty and Campbell. But McDonnell again and Vernon cancelled out these scores almost immediately to leave six between the sides with 48 minutes gone.
Mayo hit a 10-minute purple patch where they scored five unanswered points. But this was as close as they got and it was Armagh who finished the game off in style, with points from substitute John Murtagh and man of the match McKeever to win by three.
Mayo: K O’Malley, T Cunniffe, C Hallinan, C Barrett, P Gardiner, G Cafferkey, R |O’Connor, T Parsons, J Gibbons, A Campbell (0-3), A Dillon (0-2), K McLoughlin, A Kilcoyne (0-1), A Moran (0-3), J Doherty (1-1). Subs: R Feeney for Gardiner, R McGarrity for Parsons, E Varley for Kilcoyne, A O’Shea for McLoughlin.
Armagh: P McEvoy, A Mallon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty, K Dyas, C McKeever (0-1), P Duffy (1-0), K Toner (0-1), C Vernon (0-1), G Swift, BJ Padden, M Mackin, M O’Rourke, B Mallon (1-0), S McDonnell (0-6). Subs: J Lavery for Toner, J Murtagh (0-1) for O’Rourke, R Grugan for Swift, C Watters for Mallon.
Referee: S Doyle (Wexford).