There was no shortage of drama or excitement in Castlebar as the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers served up a thriller with Mayo doing just enough to book their place in the next round.
But the result hung in the balance right up until the bitter end with Armagh’s late rally coming up just short, and the Westerners doing just enough to keep their ambitions of making the Super 8s on track.
However, their latest victory may have come at a cost with 2016 Footballer of the Year, Lee Keegan, limping off during the first half with a foot injury.
Keegan now joins the likes of Matthew Ruane (broken collarbone) and Diarmuid O’Connor (broken wrist) on the Mayo treatment table ahead of next weekend’s Round 4 Qualifier against one of the beaten provincial finalists.
A crowd of 18,711 certainly got their money’s worth at MacHale Park on an evening when not even a few rain showers could dampen the spirits of the captivated audience.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 29, 2019
Mayo looked to have broken Armagh’s stubborn resistance when substitute Kevin McLoughlin fired in a goal in the 52nd minute to push the homeside into a four points lead.
And when the outstanding Darren Coen fired over a terrific score (his fourth of the game) moments later, Mayo seemed in a good position to close the game out.
But instead Armagh came roaring back into contention with four points in as many minutes from Jamie Clarke, team captain Rory Grugan and the sensational Stefan Campbell (2).
Jamie Clarke was also denied a goal by an excellent save from Mayo goalkeeper, David Clarke, who pushed his namesake’s goalbound shot on to the post.
With Mayo now just a point up, Cillian O’Connor, who had come off the bench in the 50th minute to make his first competitive appearance for the county in exactly 12 months, weighed in with a few crucial scores.
O’Connor converted two frees in the 67th and 71st minutes to give James Horan’s charges a little breathing space.
It didn’t last long though as Armagh laid siege to the Mayo goals in the dying minutes and late scores from Rian O’Neill (free) and the aforementioned Stefan Campbell in the 73rd and 74th minutes meant nobody could rest easy.
There was still time for a few more nervous moments in front of the Mayo goal, but Armagh’s last chance of an equaliser was spurned by Niall Grimley who saw his long-range effort drift wide.
A rip-roaring game had started in a welter of excitement too with Rian O’Neill’s goal in the sixth minute (his third in two games) propelling Armagh into the lead.
But inside sixty seconds, Mayo had the ball in the net at the other end when Fionn McDonagh fired past Blaine Hughes after Andy Moran had picked him out a precise pass.
From there to the break it was nip and tuck, with the sides level on five occasions before a couple of back-to-back Mayo points from Jason Doherty and Paddy Durcan edged them into a 1-6 to 1-5 lead at half-time.
Crucially, Mayo improved considerably on their scoring ratio after the restart, racking up 1-7 from eight shots to pip Armagh at the post as the Orchard County paid a heavy price for kicking a dozen wides.
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1); M Murray, A O’Shea; F McDonagh (1-1), C Loftus (0-2, 2fs), J Doherty (0-1); D Coen (0-4), A Moran, C Treacy.
Subs: K McLoughlin (1-1) for A Moran; S Coen for Keegan (inj); D Vaughan (0-1) for Murray; C O’Connor (0-2, 2fs) for Loftus; F Boland for Doherty (inj); E Regan for Treacy.
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; A Forker, B Donaghy, M Shields; J Óg Burns, N Grimley (0-1); J Hall, A Nugent, S Campbell (0-4); J Clarke (0-5, 2fs), R O’Neill (1-2, 2fs), R Grugan (0-3).
Subs: E Rafferty for Nugent; G McCabe for McKay; B Crealey for Burns.
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)