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A dream debut for red-hot Kernan

Crossmaglen ace Tony turns it around for Armagh

By John Campbell

Up until yesterday, Tony Kernan did not expect to have any active involvement in Armagh's bid to get their National Football League campaign off to a winning start.

And when Cavan, enterprising and lively throughout the first half, led by 1-5 to 0-3 at the interval Tony, in common with virtually every other Armagh player and fan in the ground, thought their chances of winning has already disappeared.

But when manager Peter McDonnell, in charge for the first time in a National League tie, took the bold decision to plunge Tony into the fray for the second period he not only signalled a dramatic transformation in the course of the contest but also created the ultimate local sporting hero.

Crossmaglen Rangers ace Tony, just acquiring full fitness following a dislocated collar bone, proceeded to fire over five superb points to highlight a sparkling Armagh recovery that eventually saw them scamper over the finishing line a point ahead of their previously dominant opponents.

No wonder McDonnell was effusive in his praise for Tony at the finish.

"He had a superb debut. I did not know that he would have been made available to us by Rangers in view of their forthcoming All Ireland Club semi-final but I asked for him and I'm delighted that he was made available," purred McDonnell.

But while pleased his side kick-started the league with a victory, he acknowledged there had been "some negatives."

His opposite number Donal Keogan, who had watched his side stride imperiously through the first half when they were buoyed by Seanie Johnston's 18th minute goal, Martin Reilly's accuracy and James Reilly's superb reflexes in goal, reluctantly admitted that Armagh's superior physicality proved a key factor in the end.

"We were comfortable playing our running game in the first half but Armagh were much stronger after that. However, we will try to take the positives from this game," said Keogan.

Indeed, the fluency and invention Cavan displayed in the first half might well have merited and even bigger halt time advantage although they were fortunate too, that goalkeeper Reilly was in such excellent form particularly when thwarting Ronan Clarke twice.

It was in a blistering six-minute spell at the start of the second half that the pendulum swung decisively in Armagh's favour. With his first two touches, Tony Kernan landed points and with Martin O'Rourke, Gareth O'Neill and Steven McDonnell also getting on the scoreboard the home side were suddenly within just one point of their opponents at 1-6 to 0-8.

Cavan still managed to keep a sliver of daylight between the sides, Reilly and Johnston hitting the target and when McDonnell missed a 56th minute penalty for Armagh it looked as if they might lose their momentum.

But a majestic point from a free from Tony Kernan complemented and earlier score from his brother Stephen and both were to land further points in a pulsating finish as Armagh held out to pocket an early brace of league points.

Armagh scorers: T Kernan (0-5, 0-4 frees), R Clarke, S Kernan (0-2 each), P McKeever (0-2, both frees), G O'Neill, S McDonnell (0-1 each).

Cavan scorers: S Johnston (1-4, 0-3 frees), M Reilly (0-4, 0-2 frees), B Watters, J McCutcheon (0-1 each).

ARMAGH: C McKinney; E McNulty, B Donaghy, F Moriarty; G Smyth, A O'Rourke, P Duffy; G O'Neill, P McGrane; M O'Rourke, B Mallon, P McKeever; G Swift, R Clarke, S McDonnell. Substitutes: T Kernan for Mallon, C McKeever for Smyth (both half time), S Kernan for P McKeever 51mins, K Toner for Swift 56mins.

CAVAN: J Reilly; M Hannon, R Dunne, K Fannin; B Watters, P Reilly, J McCutcheon; L Mulvey, J Cunningham; M Reilly, R Donohue, A Ford; J O'Reilly, E O'Reilly, S Johnston. Substitutes: M Lyng for Fannin 32mins, G Pierson for J O'Reilly 46mins, S Brady for E O'Reilly 61mins, M Cunningham for Donohue 70mins.

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).

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