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Orchard left with fruitless summer after exit

Armagh 0-12 Galway 1-12

By John Campbell

Everything comes to those who wait. Galway, a side whose recent history is littered with All-Ireland Qualifier heartbreak - six exits in seven years and on each occasion by a one-point margin - yesterday finally managed to hold their nerve in a pulsating Athletic Grounds climax to administer the last rites to Armagh's championship ambitions for this year.

If character, resolve and sheer spirit - their skill ration was limited at best - sustained Kevin Walsh's side, then the Orchard County were clinically undone by their own fatal fusion of wrong options, missed chances and ill-discipline.

Devoid of fluency and lacking in confidence on occasions, they were ultimately left to their grisly fate by a side that incurred two black cards, exhibited naivety rather too often and failed to score during the last 24 minutes.

Yet the outcome might well had been different had a rather more benevolent referee than David Gough awarded Jamie Clarke (pictured) a penalty when he appeared to be hauled down in the final quarter and had the fresh faces that peopled the Armagh line-up as the match progressed been introduced earlier.

As it was, Galway's brilliantly effective resistance movement held sway as their hosts' spirited efforts were thwarted.

Paul Conroy's four points from frees - at least two were needlessly conceded - as well as the marksmanship of Gary Sice and Damien Comer underpinned Galway's fire-power while Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Thomas Flynn both delivered champagne performances at midfield.

In the first-half, Galway repeatedly carried the ball into the tackle, lacked enterprise up front and revealed an inability to protect possession, which facilitated a flurry of Armagh counter-attacks.

Yet the Tribesmen still managed to pierce the home defence, most notably when Michael Lundy was presented with a goal chance only for Matthew McNeice to make a smart save.

It was not until mid-way through the first-half that the visitors swooped for their first point from play when the lively Liam Silke was on target.

Up until then, they had relied on Conroy's accuracy from frees and his three successful kicks ensured that, despite their inability to cross the gain line more often than not, the westerners remained in the hunt.

In contrast, Armagh's lightning counter-thrusts brought points from Ethan Rafferty, Micheal McKenna and James Morgan and when Andrew Murnin punished a poor kick-out from goalkeeper Brian O'Donohue by landing Armagh's fifth point, he injected a ration of confidence into his side.

It was short-lived, though. Comer, Sice and Conroy spooned points that saw Galway enjoy a 0-9 to 0-7 interval advantage and when Sice and Ethan Rafferty exchanged points on the resumption, Armagh looked set to engage a higher gear.

But when Conroy's 42nd-minute free was finished to the net via Comer's fist, it was in essence the beginning of the end for Kieran McGeeney's side.

Further points from Sice and the impressive Danny Cummins sent Galway well clear at 1-12 to 0-8 but Mark Shields, Aidan Forker (2) and substitute Tony Kernan pounced for points to set up a nerve-rending climax.

On this occasion, however, Galway were not for turning.

Instead of lobbing in the towel as has been their way in qualifiers down through the years, they fizzed impressively in the closing minutes even after losing the services of Sice and Cathal Sweeney to black cards.

Propelled by the twin engines of pride and ambition, the Connacht outfit left their hosts marooned in a sea of gloom as they provided a further romantic twist to a championship season that has suddenly acquired an unexpected and utterly compelling narrative.

Armagh: M McNeice; A Mallon, C Vernon, J Morgan 0-1; M Murray, B Donaghy, S Connell; A Findon, E Rafferty 0-3 (2f); S Campbell, A Forker 0-2 (1f), C Rafferty; M McKenna 0-2, A Murnin 0-1, J Clarke 0-1. Subs: D McKenna for E Rafferty (49 mins), M Shields 0-1 for Connell (49), T Kernan 0-1 for McKenna (51), S Harold for Findon (59). Cards: Yellow: C Rafferty (58), Forker (66).

Galway: B O'Donoghue; J Duane, F Hanley, C Sweeney; L Silke 0-1, G O'Donnell, G Bradshaw; F Ó Curraoin, T Flynn; G Sice 0-3 (2f), P Conroy 0-4 (4f), S Denvir; P Óg Ó Gríofa 0-1, D Comer 1-2, M Lundy.

Subs: D Cummins 0-1 for Denvir (half-time), A Varley for Ó Griofa

Black cards: P Sweeney for Sice (66), P Varley for C Sweeney (68).

Yellow cards: Lundy (46), O'Donnell (67).

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

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