By Liam Maloney
Sligo 1-13, Armagh 1-19
A powerful second half from Armagh, the key score being Rory Grugan’s early goal, set up Kieran McGeeney’s side for a deserved place in the third round of the Qualifiers following their six-point defeat of Sligo at Markievicz Park today.
Sligo, who came into this fixture on the back of a Connacht semi-final mauling against Galway, were without five players due to injury, including veteran defender Ross Donovan and deft forward Stephen Coen.
Dual star Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch, a Lory Meagher Cup winner with Sligo hurlers earlier in the day at Croke Park, was listed among the home side’s substitutes.
Armagh, who bounced back from their Ulster quarter-final exit to Fermanagh with a decisive win over Westmeath in round one of the Qualifiers, were missing injured attacker Ethan Rafferty.
The counties’ only previous meeting in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship was back 2002, a quarter-final clash that went to a replay which Armagh won.
The visitors, comfortable winners over Sligo when the counties met in Division Three of this year’s Allianz Football League, struggled to cope with Sligo’s initial zest as the men in black led 0-3 to 0-1 by the 10th minute.
Liam Gaughan landed two of these early points, the second of which was a goal chance but the centre-forward opted to fist the ball over Blaine Hughes’ crossbar.
But Sligo turnovers in their own half were punished by an improving Armagh who shot four points without reply to lead 0-5 to 0-3 after 23 minutes, a recovery that hinged on three classy points from team captain Rory Grugan.
Sligo, however, were showing themselves capable of a response – through pacy attacks and free-taker Liam Gaughan’s accuracy – and they went back in front, 0-7 to 0-5, with 32 minutes played.
It was Armagh’s turn to dominate before the break and they were 0-8 to 0-7 ahead at half-time thanks to fine points from Andrew Murnin, Niall Grimley and Ryan McShane.
What looked like a turning point for Armagh was a 39th-minute goal – it was a gift for the excellent Grugan who picked up Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney’s short kick-out before planting the ball in the net.
Armagh added to their lead with superb pointed frees from substitute Niall Grimley and even a wonder point from Sligo’s Niall Murphy still left the Connacht county five points down, 1-13 to 0-11, with 53 minutes on the clock.
Sligo’s situation worsened with seven minutes left when veteran forward Adrian Marren received a second booking and there was also a red card for Charlie Harrison in stoppage-time.
Sligo: Aidan Devaney, Charlie Harrison, Luke Nicholson, Mikey Gordon, Neil Ewing, Adrian McIntyre, Cian Breheny (1-0), Kevin McDonnell (c), Niall Murphy (0-3, 1f), Seán Carrabine (0-1), Liam Gaughan (0-7, 5f), Patrick O’Connor, Kyle Cawley, Pat Hughes, Adrian Marren (0-2, 2f)
Subs used: Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch for Cian Breheny, 14 (‘blood’ sub); Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch for Luke Nicholson, 49; Cathal Henry for Mikey Gordon, 57; Finnian Cawley for Sean Carrabine, 65; James Clarke for Patrick O’Connor, 69; Nathan Rooney for Pat Hughes, 69; Kevin Henry for Liam Gaughan 70+2
Armagh: Blaine Hughes (0-1, 1f), Patrick Burns, Aaron McKay, Gregory McCabe, Mark Shields, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker, Charlie Vernon, Connaire Mackin (0-1), Rory Grugan (c) (1-5, 1f), Jemar Hall (0-1), Ciaran Higgins, Ryan McShane (0-2), Andrew Murnin (0-1), Oisin Mac Iomhair
Subs used: Niall Grimley (0-6, 4f) for Aidan Forker, 31 (black card); Stephen Sheridan (0-1) for Ciaran Hughes, 35; Niall Rowland for Gregory McCabe, 57 (black card); Joe McElroy (0-1) for Oisin Mac Iomhair, 60; Anthony Duffy for Ryan McShane, 68; Oisin Lappin for Aaron McKay, 68
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)