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Armagh boss questions added time after 'hard to take' defeat in Mayo

Mayo 2-13 Armagh 1-15

Packing a punch: Armagh’s Aidan Nugent jumps with Colm Boyle and Aidan O’Shea of Mayo
Packing a punch: Armagh’s Aidan Nugent jumps with Colm Boyle and Aidan O’Shea of Mayo
Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Darren Coen with Brendan Donaghy of Armagh
Kieran McGeeney

By Mike Finnerty

The fact that this match will go down in history as one of the most memorable and exciting in the history of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers will be of scant consolation to Armagh this week.

The Orchard County spared nothing in pursuit of a famous victory at MacHale Park in Castlebar on Saturday evening, but they came up just short in the end against a Mayo team that yet again refused to bend in the face of adversity.

The Westerners went into the game without the likes of injured duo Matthew Ruane and Diarmuid O'Connor, and lost 2016 Footballer of the Year, Lee Keegan, to an ankle injury before half-time.

They also saw a five points lead with 15 minutes of normal time left pared back to just the bare minimum as Armagh threw everything into attack.

And they almost forced the match to extra-time too but Niall Grimley's long-range effort which sailed wide in the fifth minute of additional time turned out to be their last chance of an equaliser.

Ultimately, a dozen wides and missed goal opportunities for Jamie Clarke and Rory Grugan all added up, especially with Mayo mining 1-7 from their eight shots at goal in the second half.

Afterwards, Kieran McGeeney was as proud of his team as he was frustrated with the amount of additional time played by referee Maurice Deegan.

"Four minutes? There were at least 10 head injuries in that second half and nobody was taken off. It's very hard to take.

"The boys really put a great shift in and you would think they would deserve something from it.

"I couldn't be any more proud of the players," he added after admitting that 'it was too early' to make decisions about his future.

"It's a pity they didn't get any more out of it but that's the way it goes."

A crowd of 18,711 certainly got their money's worth on a muggy evening; Rian O'Neill and Fionn McDonagh traded goals in the fifth and sixth minutes to set the tone and from there to the end it was nip and tuck.

By half-time the eventual winners led by 1-6 to 1-5.

Mayo looked to have broken Armagh's stubborn resistance when substitute Kevin McLoughlin fired in a goal in the 52nd minute to push the home side into a four points lead.

And when the outstanding Darren Coen fired over a terrific score moments later, Mayo seemed in a good position to close the game out.

But instead Armagh came roaring back into contention with four points in as many minutes from Jamie Clarke, team captain Rory Grugan and the sensational Stefan Campbell (2).

With Mayo now just a point up, Cillian O'Connor, who had come off the bench in the 50th minute to make his first competitive appearance for the county in exactly 12 months, weighed in with two pressure frees.

That breathing space didn't last long though as Armagh registered late scores from Rian O'Neill (free) and the aforementioned Campbell in the 73rd and 74th minutes to rachet up the tension.

But McGeeney's men were unable to level the game for the 10th time and so bowed out of the championship after an eventful five-game season.

Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1); M Murray, A O'Shea; F McDonagh (1-1), C Loftus (0-2, 2fs), J Doherty (0-1); D Coen (0-4), A Moran, C Treacy.

Subs used: K McLoughlin (1-1) for Moran (32); S Coen for Keegan (inj, 35+1); D Vaughan (0-1) for Murray (38); C O'Connor (0-2, 2fs) for Loftus (48); F Boland for Doherty (inj, 53); E Regan for Treacy (70+2).

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; A Forker, B Donaghy, M Shields; J Óg Burns, N Grimley (0-1); J Hall, A Nugent, S Campbell (0-4); J Clarke (0-5, 2fs), R O'Neill (1-2, 2fs), R Grugan (0-3).

Subs used: E Rafferty for Nugent (53); G McCabe for McKay (56); B Crealey for Burns (70+2).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

Mayo2-13

Armagh1-15

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