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Delighted McGeeney's eye stays on hard road ahead for Armagh

Armagh 1-16 Fermanagh 0-17

By John Campbell

The paltry crowd of 9,000 was lost in the majestic environs of Croke Park, the biting wind chilled to the bone and the status of the confrontation sparked nothing more than lukewarm interest, but the contented smile on the face of Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney at the end confirmed that his reconstructed side had just taken another step forward.

McGeeney knows better than any that this Division Three title triumph represents nothing more than a hint of one-upmanship in an episode of preliminary sparring that was a precursor to the forthcoming Ulster Championship clash between the sides.

While in no way detracting from his team's honest, robust performance, McGeeney was quick to lay it on the line that they are still a work in progress.

"Any day you walk up the steps in Croke Park is a good day, albeit lower down the divisions but that's where we are and you can only win what's in front of you," he declared, "But then your mind immediately turns to summer and what's coming."

"Then it will be a smaller pitch, a tighter setting against what will probably be a more focussed, determined Fermanagh."

"While we enjoyed this Division Three success, we know we still have a big hill to climb. We have a hard road ahead of us."

Injuries, the unavailability of players and occasional lapses in form ensured that Armagh's journey into Division Two was not without its hiccups but McGeeney is prepared to embrace the positives as what he hopes will prove to be an extended summer of action looms on the horizon.

Andrew Murnin has blossomed into one of the best full-forwards in the country, Gregory McCabe and Aaron McKay are maturing rapidly as quality defenders, Rory Grugan's leadership is epitomised by splendid example and a fresh trance of newcomers are simply ravenous for game time.

Against a Fermanagh side that relied rather too heavily on the ability of Seamus Quigley to pot points from frees and which was caught sleep-walking at one stage in the second-half when they drifted to five points in arrears, Armagh deployed their energy, cohesion and glimpses of sheer class to good effect.

Quigley's accuracy had much to do with Fermanagh enjoying a 0-8 to 0-7 interval lead by which stage he had been on target half-a-dozen times but in the 53rd minute the pendulum swung in the orchard county's favour when man of the match Murnin provided the real turning point.

A hopeful lob from Ben Crealey into the Fermanagh goalmouth was kept out but when the ball fell invitingly into Murnin's path he had no hesitation in despatching it to the net.

It was a goal that was to prove his team's passport to victory even though Rory Gallagher's side displayed considerable stamina and character in staying on their opponents' shoulder until referee James Molloy sounded the final whistle. Indeed, Fermanagh's efforts to secure a goal of their own ensured that the Armagh defence was forced to remain on red alert in the closing stages of the game.

A brace of points from Conall Jones along with another from Eoin Donnelly and a fine opportunist score from substitute Thomas Corrigan had kept Fermanagh's hopes alive as they whittled down what had been a 1-16 to 0-14 deficit.

However, substitute Ryan McShane who certainly made his presence felt throughout the second-half after having replaced Charlie Vernnon, the influential Niall Grimley and the increasingly effective Niall Rowland joined in a late points blitz that eased Armagh to their first piece of silverware for some time.

And manager McGeeney certainly hopes that it will not be their only acquaintance with success this year.

"There are big challenges ahead but as I have said before this team is a work in progress and patience is needed as we try to move along. Fermanagh were up for this challenge and they will be even more keen to win when we meet in the championship further along the line," said McGeeney.

Armagh scorers: A Murnin 1-3, N Grimley 0-4 (3f), P Burns, A Forker, R McShane 0-2 each, G McCabe, B Crealey, N Rowland 0-1 each.

Fermanagh scorers: S Quigley 0-9 (9f), C Jones 0-3, R Jones 0-2, B Mulrone, T Corrigan, D McCusker 0-1 each.

Belfast Telegraph

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