Armagh 2-21 Monaghan 4-17
Every now and then a game comes along that simply demands to be videoed in the memory bank.
This pulsating Ulster senior football championship epic certainly belongs in that category, particularly so in a year to date which has been dominated by mundane fare.
From a whirlwind opening to the mind-blowing climax the extremely fortunate 2,300 gallery at Pairc Esler, Newry were held enthralled by a match which quite simply propelled the province’s flagship competition onto a new pedestal
And this against the most daunting backdrop possible, the tragic death in a road accident of Monaghan U20 captain Brendan Óg Duffy just hours before the throw-in consuming the thoughts of everyone.
Not surprisingly given that he had experienced a whole gambit of emotions, Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney struggled for words at the finish.
“We had to try and park our feelings and focus on the job in hand and that certainly was not easy,” said McEnaney, “Brendan Óg Duffy was a fabulous young man, massively popular with all Monaghan players. I expected this team to respond to the challenge that they faced against Armagh and despite the emotions which they had, they still stepped up to the mark.”
“We had worked really hard for this game. We knew going in that Armagh have serious talent in their side and we even spoke about things at half-time in the belief that, despite our lead, it would go down to the wire. We were well aware that Armagh would never give up.”
“The great thing about this team is that we have loads of leaders in the dressing-room. This was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the men and when we needed scores as the heat was applied they stepped up and got us over the line.”
Monaghan had looked to be out of sight when they led by 4-9 to 0-14 at the half-way stage, Conor McManus, Jack McCarron, Michael Bannigan and Darren Hughes having found the Armagh net with McManus and Dessie Ward playing lead roles in assembling their points haul.
In contrast, Armagh were rather too reliant on Rian O’Neill for scores although Rory Grugan did his best to lend a helping hand.
Yet for all their first-half authority, Monaghan could only manage five points from play after the break in addition to three from frees by McManus while Armagh in contrast exploded into action by landing 2-7, their goals coming from substitutes Conor Turbitt and Tiernan Kelly.
Armagh’s herculean physical effort saw them not only dilute Monaghan’s advantage on the scoreboard but warmed the hearts of their fanatical following as they put their bodies on the line to slip into the ascendency.
Their intelligent use of substitutes, the powerhouse contributions of the O’Neill brothers Rian and Oisin, the tireless efforts of Jemar Hall and the great-hearted Andrew Murnin all combined to keep Monaghan on the back foot when it was thought they would have been profiteering on their first-half supremacy.
Indeed, had it not been for one two unkind bounces, a couple of questionable refereeing calls and two costly turnovers Armagh might well have come out on top.
In a frenetic finish, Armagh nosed in front by 2-21 to 4-13 only for the ubiquitous McManus to land two frees and another point from play before substitute Stephen O’Hanlon applied the coup de grace.
Crestfallen Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney acknowledged that his side’s first-half profligacy ultimately cost them dearly.
“Obviously the goals were a killer blow but for me this Armagh team are a great bunch and I am very proud to be associated with them,” said McGeeney.
“We had a couple of goal chances ourselves and we were not able to take them. We had told the players to keep taking their points because we knew even facing into a six or seven point deficit that a goal would make a big difference for us.”
“We thought it would only be a matter of time before we made our chances count and while it was a great comeback time ran out on us in the end.”
“I still believe these Armagh players can be medal-winners if they put their minds to it. Obviously we have to look to the future and we will see if they and the county board still want me.”
Armagh: S Magill; J Morgan, A McKay, R Kennedy; C O’Hanlon 0-1, G McCabe 0-1, C Mackin; N Grimley 0-1, O O’Neill 0-2; J Hall, R O’Neill 0-6 (3f), J Og Burns 0-1; R Grugan 0-3 (1F), A Murnin 0-1, S Campbell 0-1. Subs: Subs: A Forker for McKay (28), C O’Neill 0-1 for O’Hanlon (half-time), C Turbett 1-1 for Grimley (half-time), T Kelly 1-1 for Hall (49), R McQuillan 0-1 for Mackin (60).
Monaghan: R Beggan 0-2 (2f); K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O’Connell, K Lavelle, R McAnespie; D Hughes 1-0, N Kearns; M Bannigan 1-1, A Mulligan, D Ward 0-2; C McCarthy 0-1, J McCarron 1-2, C McManus 1-6 (3f). Subs: S O’Hanlon 0-2 for McCarthy (34), S Carey 0-1 for Mulligan (41), C Walshe for O’Connell (47), A Woods for Kearns (59), F Kelly for Hughes (72)
Referee: David Codrick (Meath)