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Campbell has decisive say for error-prone Armagh

Armagh 0-13 Monaghan 1-9

By John Campbell

Armagh made life hard for themselves in this rugged Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup tie before breasting the tape ahead of Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds last night.

It was scrappy for the most part, an undistinguished contest in which brawn held sway over brain for the most part.

There will be few complaints from Armagh, though. They have booked a place in the last four of the competition and another game - at least - will be viewed as a bonus by manager Kieran McGeeney.

But he will certainly seek an improvement on this form if his side is to make it into the final.

Man of the match Stefan Campbell orchestrated much of Armagh's attacking strategy, Aidan Forker deployed his experience to good effect and Mark Shields toiled relentlessly but the team's performance was error-strewn at times with substitute Jamie Clarke dismissed in the 68th minute having incurred two yellow cards.

Armagh's rash, over-robust tackling saw them concede a series of frees in the opening quarter which paved the way for their visitors to glide into a handsome lead without having to dig too deeply into their reservoir of skills.

Not even three minutes had elapsed when Stephen O'Hanlon's scorching burst towards the posts from the right touchline was unceremoniously halted by Ryan Kennedy and skipper Jack McCarron stepped up to sweep the resultant penalty past the hapless Blaine Hughes.

McGeeney's side's early indiscipline opened the door for McCarron and Thomas Kerr to convert frees before David Garland was on target from play to send his side into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead, Mark Shields having plundered Armagh's solitary score before a minute of play had been completed.

It was after McCarron and Rory Grugan traded points that the Orchard County unveiled a ration of composure and control for the first time in the contest.

With Stephen Sheridan and Charlie Vernon exerting rather more influence at midfield, Campbell carrying an increased threat up front and Grugan spraying the ball around intelligently, Armagh made much better use of their possession.

Between the 26th and 32nd minutes the home side rifled over three points, all of which were the products of more enterprising, inventive play.

Sheridan set the ball rolling with Campbell providing a double boost by hitting the target twice and suddenly his team were snapping at Monaghan's heels, just two points adrift at 1-4 to 0-5.

All-Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan made the Oriel side's half-time cushion that little bit more comfortable when he landed a free in added time to send them in ahead at 1-5 to 0-5.

It was in the third quarter that Armagh stepped up a gear or two, bagging a brace of points from Forker and a point from a free by Niall Grimley.

But a tenacious Monaghan side stuck grimly to their task with Beggan playing a key role in keeping them in contention.

He landed two long-range frees in the 48th and 52nd minutes which eased his side into a 1-8 to 0-10 lead but Malachy O'Rourke's side were to score just once more.

In contrast, their hosts kept their composure and their nerve and when defender Ryan Kennedy and corner forward Rian O'Neill found the target in the 55th and 56th minutes respectively, the Orchard had crept into a one-point lead.

The stage was set for a grandstand finish which saw Monaghan substitute Vinny Corey steal in for a point from an acute angle that appeared to have earned his team a share of the spoils.

But the imperious Campbell was to have the last say, sweeping over a majestic point in the 58tth minute that was to prove crucial to taking his side into the last four.

Armagh: B Hughes; R Kennedy 0-1, A McKay, C Mackin; M Shields 0-1, G McCabe, A Forker 0-2; S Sheridan 0-1, C Vernon; N Grimley 0-2 (2f), R Grugan 0-1, J Og Burns; S Campbell 0-3, J Grugan, R O'Neill. 0-1.

Subs: J Clarke (0-1) for J Grugan (19), J McElroy for Vernon (54), P Casey for Sheridan (67).

Monaghan: R Beggan 0-3 (3f); J McCarron, K Duffy, R Wylie; J Mealiff, B Kerr, G Doogan; F Kelly, C Boyle; T Kerr 0-1, J McCarron 1-3 (1-0 pen, 2f), D Malone; D Garland 0-1, D Freeman, S O'Hanlon.

Subs: V Corey 0-1 for Mealiff (h/t), O Duffy for Freeman (42), M Bananigan for T Kerr (55), D Mone for John McCarron (61), D Wylie for Doogan (61).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)

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