THIS was a very enjoyable and sporting game played between two evenly-matched teams, both in transition, on a perfect evening for football.
After a dreadful opening 50 minutes against Wexford, conceding five goals against Meath and a few uneasy moments against Tipperary, this was Dublin’s best performance of the championship.
The victory gives Pat Gilroy some breathing space and there are many aspects from Saturday he will be pleased with. Firstly, the manner of their win. Dublin were trailed by four points after 27 minutes but clawed back to draw level at half-time. When Armagh reeled off three points in succession to level the match at 10 points apiece after 57 minutes it was Dublin who outscored the Ulstermen by four points to one in the remaining quarter. Rory O’Carroll had a great duel with Steven McDonnell and finished honours-even which will be a huge confidence boost. I was also very impressed with midfielder Michael Dara MacAuley. He has one of the longest names in the game but I think he can become one of the biggest in time. He turned over a huge amount of ball in the tackle, was very mobile, used possession very well and when catching a vital kickout near the end showed he is a potential leader of this team.
I thought it worked well putting the two Brogans in the full-forward line and they combined well for a couple of early scores.
Alan can set up scores from the centre-forward position but he is more dangerous closer to goals. Bernard, who scored nine points (five from play), was very sharp especially when required in the first half. After sharing the kickouts in the first half, the Dublin midfield got on top in the second half helped greatly by Stephen Cluxton’s accuracy and speed in taking the restarts and the Armagh tactic of playing with five forwards and leaving a Dublin defender free.
Another pleasing fact for Gilroy was the manner in which the subs again made an impact with Paul Flynn and Eamon Fennell getting important second half points, Kevin McManamon winning two vital frees near the end and Paddy Andrews and Darren Magee also prominent.
Dublin will be pleased not to have conceded a goal although it took a vital clearance off the line by Phillip McMahon with ten minutes to go to keep a clean sheet.
But there are some areas which need to be addressed. The Dublin half-forward line did massive work helping its defence but did not support the full-forward line on occasions. Full-forward Eoghan O’Gara is big, strong and direct but once he wins the ball he needs the Brogans to support him quickly. I also think he can be more effective if he can win ball closer to goals.
The goals seem to have dried up too, with just one against Tipperary and none against Armagh or Meath. For Dublin to beat the top teams they need to find the net, concede no goals, get both the Brogans playing really well on the same day and get the half-forward line to weigh in with a few points as well.
Armagh contributed hugely to the game. Interestingly only three of the starting fifteen were from Crossmaglen. One of these, goalkeeper Paul Hearty had a great duel with opposite number Stephen Cluxton. Both put a lot of time into their kick out strategy and must be among the most accurate kickers off the tee.
Ciaran McKeever played the sweeper role very well, clearing a certain goal off the line and having time to kick a point. I am sure International Rules manager, Anthony Tohill will be checking his availability for the series in October. A feature of the Armagh play was their ability in the first half to kick long-range points. Steven McDonnell scored two points from play including the point of the game off his left foot after half-time. He also managed to score three frees and could not be blamed for missing three 45’s.
They really missed the injured Ronan Clarke who can win a ball centrally and score or set up McDonnell. They could have sneaked a win when sub Joe Feeney kicked a late point but did not spot Charlie Vernon unmarked in space in front of goal. Still, they have had a good year winning the Division 2 title and gaining promotion to the top flight.
If Mike McGurn gets a second year as fitness coach and some of the All-Ireland winning minors of last year come through, Armagh football is going in the right direction.
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