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Delighted McGeeney hails his heroes after their late, late show

Armagh 2-16 Clare 1-15

By John Campbell

It's never over until the Fat Lady sings but Armagh must surely have entreated her to perform the encore that allowed them to scramble into the last four of the All-Ireland qualifiers after the last rites appeared to have been administered to their championship aspirations.

This was quintessential Roy of the Rovers stuff - trailing 1-15 to 1-11 with three minutes of normal time remaining, Armagh somehow defied their earlier pronounced flaws, the stifling heat and their opponents' dogged resistance to hit an unanswered 1-5 that rocketed them another step towards the Super 8s.

The not inconsequential fact that Longford referee Fergal Kelly played seven minutes of added time was not so much a boost for Armagh as manna from heaven.

Relief, bemusement, delight - manager Kieran McGeeney was understandably overwhelmed by a battery of emotions as he consumed his side's outlandish victory.

"I think this recovery reflected the character of the boys," said McGeeney. "This is still a young team and it takes time to build and develop a line-up. To win a game like this shows the courage the players have.

"If players never give up they will always have a chance and this is one occasion on which this was proved beyond doubt."

It had been all so different earlier, though. Clare, brisk and business-like, skipped into a 0-9 to 0-7 interval lead with skipper Rory Grugan and Niall Grimley keeping the home side in touch.

But when Clare streaked clear at 0-13 to 0-9 in the 53rd minute Armagh's huge support became muted.

Then an out of the blue Andrew Murnin goal rekindled the flame of hope only for David Tubridy to temporarily extinguish the host side's ambitions again when he drilled his 67th minute to the net at the second attempt.

At 1-15 to 1-11 it was over and out from an Armagh perspective - that is, until the heavy artillery arrived from the substitutes' bench.

Joe McElroy's superbly taken 69th minute goal was followed by points from Gavin McParland and Ross McQuillan that underlined their team's strength in depth. Grugan landed his sixth point and Aidan Forker swept over a trademark score as giddy Armagh fans drank in the stunning turnaround.

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, G McCabe; M Shields, B Donaghy, A Forker 0-1; C Vernon 0-1, C Mackin; R Grugan 0-6 (2f), J Hall, N Grimley 0-4 (4f); R McShane 0-1, A Murnin 1-1, S Sheridan. Subs: N Rowland for Mackin (half-time), R Owens for McKay (42), R McQuillan 0-1 for Hall (50), J McElroy 1-0 for Sheridan (54), G McParland 0-1 for McShane (64), J Duffy for Shields (75). Yellow cards: Rowland (37), Hall (43), Burns (63).

Clare: R Eyres; G Kelly, C Brennan, E Collins; C O'Dea, A Fitzgerald, P Lillis 0-2;G Brennan, C O'Connor 0-1; C Malone, E Cleary 0-3, J Malone 0-3; E Courtney 0-2, K Sexton 0-1, D Tubridy 1-3. Subs: K Hartnett for Collins (half-time), S Roche for Eyres (50), G O'Brien for Fitzgerald (62), C O hAinifein for O' Dea (BC 65). Yellow cards: Collins (28), Hartnett (37), Lillis (73).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).

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