You are viewing the content for Monday 7 July 2003

Armagh show true colours

Armagh v Dublin

Armagh 0-15
Dublin 0-11

YOU couldn't escape the comparison with their memorable All-Ireland final victory, the emphatic way that Armagh overpowered Dublin in Saturday's electrifying Bank of Ireland footballer qualifier game in Croke Park.

Four points down and struggling after what was acknowledged as possibly their poorest first-half display of the season, Joe Kernan's team showed huge character in storming back to win convincingly through the strength of their physical challenge and the quality of their forward play.

Afterwards, Kernan made it clear that negative talk about his team irked him. "These boys are worthy All-Ireland champions.

People gave them stick and said they were poor champions, but I have never seen a poor team that won an All-Ireland yet," he stated.

"Whether we go on and win, we don't know, but they proved that they are as good as what's about."

A disconsolate Tommy Lyons as good as admitted that his team was not in the same class. "That's life. At the end of the day they deserved to win the game.

"I said beforehand it was men versus boys and people were laughing at me. Armagh's physical power was overwhelming. We're still lacking players. There are too many of the same standard in Dublin," he remarked.

Lyons was also critical of the refereeing, saying that Pat McEnaney 'bottled' decisions against Armagh.

With tensions running high at stages of the opening 35 minutes and some grinding tackles going in, two players were red-carded in a brief period after the resumption.

Armagh Paddy McKeever went first, in the 39th minute, to be followed, critically, by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton in the 43rd for striking and kicking offences, respectively.

The departure of McKeever, lucky not to have walked two minutes earlier, threatened to ruin Armagh's recovery. However, their momentum was restored by Cluxton's rush of blood.

Significantly, the withdrawal of impressive centre-back Johnny Magee to make way for Dublin's reserve 'keeper was to backfire on the management with John McEntee thundering into the game for the champions.

Another factor was that Armagh revelled in the extra space that was created.

While everyone speculated afterwards about what Kernan had said during the break, he didn't pull any rabbits out of the hat this time.

He merely told his players to 'lift the heads, that they had nothing to be afraid off.'

"All we had to do was go out and play to our strengths and we certainly did that," he said.

Tony McEntee was switched to centre-back, where he was to have a huge influence and captain Kieran McGeeney, who had been often anonymous in the first half, was given the freedom to move forward.

He did this to major effect and combined with their dominance at midfield and the brilliance of Steven McDonnell in attack, the nett effect was to be devastating.

The teams had been level for the first of only three times in the game by the 14th minute, during which Cluxton denied McDonnell a certain goal and the physical nature of the game was evident.

Armagh defended well, even though Jason Sherlock exploited Andy Mallon's lack of experience at times and while Paddy Christie was often in trouble against McDonnell at the other end, Dublin were very strong at half-back, where Shane Ryan excelled on the right flank.

However, Dublin's weakness in finishing, which had been shown up during the League, handicapped them as Ray Cosgrove and Alan Brogan both failed to make the most of good scoring opportunities.

It meant that Dublin could not have been satisfied with their half-time lead of four points, 0-8 to 0-4.

That had been reduced to a single score within ten minutes, with McDonnell kicking over three excellent scores from frees.

Just before the first of them, McKeever was sent off and McDonnell revealed later that he felt the game 'was over for them' at that stage.

What brought them back, he suggested, was the experienced players out the field 'digging deep and carrying the team with them'.

What he didn't say was that his superb fielding and crafty play enabled him to play a vital role, just as John McEntee did through his general leadership and some great kicking.

Likewise, twin brother Tony did massive work all over the defence. Paul McGrane finally began to stamp his authority on the game, as did Philip Loughran, while McGeeney played inspiringly in the role of link man between the defence and the front players.

"We haven't been playing that well recently, but football is like that," said the Armagh captain.

"It's not all physical, it's getting over mental barriers as well. There comes a time in a game, like in the Monaghan game when we weren't up for it, but today we were".

Once Armagh had gelled as a unit, they were awesome in full flight. Level by the 49th minute, they took the lead through John McEntee, with

McGrane adding another score quickly and while Dublin fought back to be only a point behind on two occasions, they were outsmarted for the final ten minutes.

The one slim chance they had of saving the game was near the very end, when goalkeeper Paul Hearty dropped a high ball near the goal-line, but, typical of the way he had masterminded the defence, Tony McEntee was on hand to gather it up.

Added Kernan: "It was one of those days the boys realised their true worth."

*Pat McEnaney's mistakes in what was obviously a difficult game to handle were minimal, although Dublin could justifiably question several decisions in the second-half.

Scorers for Armagh S. McDonnell 0-5 (0-3 frees); J. McEntee 0-4; D. Marsden 0-2; O. McConville, P. McKeever, P. McGrane and R. Clarke 0-1 each.

Dublin: R. Cosgrove 0-5 (0-4 frees); D. Farrell and J. Sherlock 0-2 each; D. Homan and S. Connell 0-1 each.
ARMAGH: P. Hearty; E. McNulty, F. Bellew, A. Mallon; A. O'Rourke, K. McGeeney (capt.), A. McCann; P. Loughran, P. McGrane; P. McKeever, J. McEntee, D. Marsden; T. McEntee, S. McDonnell, O. McConville. Sub: R. Clarke for McConville (27th).

DUBLIN: S. Cluxton, C. Moran, P. Christie, P. Griffin; S. Ryan, J. Magee, D. Henry; C. Whelan, D. Homan; S. Connell, B. Cullen, A. Brogan; D. Farrell, R. Cosgrove, J. Sherlock. Subs: D. Magee for Homan (injured, 42nd minute); B. Murphy for J. Magee (51st); D. O'Callaghan for Brogan (56th); T. Mulligan for Connell (66th).

Referee: P. McEnaney (Monaghan).

*Attendance: 63,143.