Three words will undoubtedly underscore Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke’s philosophy for his team’s remaining involvement in the All Ireland Football Qualifiers - must do better.
Without being in any way authoritative, his side offered sufficient honest graft that was complemented by another ration of quality finishing from Steven McDonnell to take them past a Fermanagh side whose work ethic was not quite garnished by the requisite scoring power up front in this decidedly below-par second round tie in front of 6,503 fans at Brewster Park, Enniskillen, yesterday.
And O’Rourke has already sounded a warning that Armagh will have to scale much bigger peaks in their quest for more substantial credibility.
“Fermanagh made it very difficult for us as they got players back behind the ball,” said O’Rourke.
“We knew that they had not been beaten in Enniskillen for eight years in championship football and that this might sustain them.
“But I felt we had that extra edge in class particularly through Steven McDonnell and Jamie Clarke that ultimately stood to us.
“We will obviously have to improve if we are to make more headway.”
In a game virtually suffocated by defensive strategies, flair and finesse were for the most part sacrificed with emphasis instead placed on industry and endeavour.
And if McDonnell’s rich haul —three points from play and a similar return from frees — formed the basis of Armagh’s modest overall total, then Clarke’s point in the 41st minute had a big bearing on the outcome, according to O’Rourke.
“I thought that was a crucial score. It put a little more daylight between the sides and probably provided us with the momentum that took us to victory,” he pointed out.
Despite conceding possession much too often at midfield and indulging in laboured build-ups that often played into the hands of the waiting home rearguard, Armagh still managed to unveil enough cohesion, movement and composure in the last quarter to breast the tape in some comfort.
A first-half strewn with errors triggered a sterile, flat contest that lent an air of mild incredulity to the proceedings given that this was after all supposedly the cut and thrust of championship fare.
Fermanagh, insipid up front except when Armagh goalkeeper Paul Hearty had to look particularly sharp to deny both Ryan Carson and Darryl Keenan, had to wait until the 27th minute before they scored their first point from play.
Indeed had it not been for the accuracy of Seamus Quigley, who flighted over three frees in addition to this score, they might well have been hoisting the white flag in surrender.
Armagh fared only marginally better at this stage, McDonnell complementing his three points from frees with another from play and the subdued Jamie Clarke hitting the target in the sixth minute after missing a glorious goal chance in the opening seconds following an incisive pass from Aaron Kernan.
It was the hard-working Charlie Vernon who landed Armagh’s other score but Fermanagh’s abil
ity to maximise their defensive talents best illustrated by Niall Bogue, Barry Mulrone and Ryan McCloskey ensured that the Orchard County were largely stifled up front and enjoyed only a 0-6 to 0-4 interval lead.
But it was their physicality, craft and predatory instincts that were to serve them well after the break, and particularly in the last fifteen when Gareth Swift and Vernon joining McDonnell in sweeping over superb long-range points that helped tighten their team’s grip on the game.
McDonnell blotted his copybook by missing a 37th minute penalty but his otherwise faultless finishing had put the limited gloss on Armagh’s victory.
Fermanagh, with Ryan Jones, Kieran Flaherty, Seamus Quigley and Brian Cox starting in place of Martin McGrath, Mark Little, Rory Gallagher and Chris O’Brien, were unable to maintain their defensive resolve and frustrated manager Malachy O’Rourke did not shy away from his side’s shortcomings.
“While I have great pride in the lads for the effort they put in, we maybe lacked the forward punch we needed to put pressure on Armagh,” he sighed.
Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, V Martin, P Duffy, C McKeever, K Dyas, M Mackin, C Vernon (0-2), J Feeney, A Kernan, F Hanratty, G Swift (0-1), S McDonnell (0-6, 0-3 frees), J Clarke (0-2). Subs: K Toner for Hanratty (half-time), F Moriarty for Dyas (half-time), B Mallon for Feeney (64 mins). Yellow cards: Kernan (22 mins), Toner (52), Duffy (62), Moriarty (67)
Fermanagh: Ronan Gallagher; N Bogue, M O’Brien, B Mulrone; D Ward, R McCluskey, T McElroy (0-1); J Sherry, R Jones; D Keenan, R Carson, K Flaherty; P Ward, S Quigley (0-5, 0-4 frees), B Cox (0-1). Subs: C O’Brien for P Ward 42 mins), N McGovern for Mulrone (45), Rory Gallagher for Flaherty (51), M McGrath for Jones (55). Yellow cards: P Ward (14 mins), Keenan (22), Mulrone (29), M O’Brien (37), McCluskey (45).
Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford)