Royals survive as battling Orchard fall just short in thriller

THE two league points stayed in Meath on Saturday night but most of the positive vibes departed across the county border with Paddy O’Rourke’s side after this thriller in Navan.

On the last two occasions the Ulster side left Pairc Tailteann it had been on the back of seven-point defeats and something similar seemed in store when Jamie Queeney’s goal left them six adrift just after half-time.

The backlash was as impressive as it was immediate.

Armagh scored the next six points to draw level and only two late frees from the hosts deprived the visitors of a deserved share of the spoils.

They will look back at the two goals they conceded and wince, not just because of their effect on the result, but their timing. The first came three minutes into the opening half, the second within 30 seconds of the restart.

Armagh’s response both times was to claw their way back into the contest inch by laborious inch and their dominance for stretches was such that they kept Meath scoreless for 19 minutes in the first act and 24 in the second.

“We’re disappointed,” admitted Armagh selector Donal Murtagh. “We done enough to win it. We scored 13 points and we showed pride and passion, hunger and desire. It’s great to see those back in an Armagh team.”

Armagh had been dealt a blow before the throw-in when Ronan Clarke failed a fitness test and was replaced on the edge of the square by Gareth Swift. Clarke’s loss was felt keenly with Swift the chief culprit as Armagh kicked a succession of careless wides and Meath made them pay dearly with some sublime football.

The first goal, from Stephen Bray, was a fortunate tap-in after his brother David lost control of the ball and kicked it into his brother’s path via the fingers of goalkeeper Paul Hearty.

The four points they tacked onto that in the next 15 minutes were far more pleasing on the eye. By that stage, Armagh had five wides and dropped two shots into the arms of the Meath goalkeeper.

Remarkably, Eamonn O’Brien’s side would score just once more from play in the last 50 minutes while, at the other end, Armagh’s waywardness was being brought under control.

Steven McDonnell was instrumental in his side’s revival. Armagh rattled off four points in the second quarter, by the end of which only the goal separated the sides.

Queeney’s three-pointer – a simple catch, turn and kick from a Cian Ward free – seemed to quell the orange uprising but the next 20 minutes was one-way traffic and Armagh were level with the final quarter to come.

Not for the first time though the side reeling in the large deficit stalled as soon as they drew level and Meath found enough reserves in the tank to launch raids which resulted in a pair of converted frees from David Bray.

Charlie Vernon reduced the gap to the bare minimum in injury-time but the allotted two extra minutes had already elapsed by the time the umpire raised his white flag and that was that.

Meath had done it but, boy, were they lucky.

Scorers for Meath: J Queeney 1-1, S Bray 1-1, D Bray 0-3 (2f), C O’Connor 0-1, C Ward 0-1f, G Reilly 0-1.

Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (3f), R Henderson 0-2, C Vernon 0-2, A Kernan 0-1f, F Moriarty 0-1, J Feeney 0-1.

MEATH: P O’Rourke; N McKeigue, J Macken, E Harrington; M Burke, C McGuinness, G Reilly; N Crawford, M Ward; C O’Connor, S Bray, P Byrne; D Bray, J Queeney, C Ward.

Subs: S Kenny for Macken (32), O Lewis for Byrne (49), A Moyles for C Ward (58), B Sheridan for S Bray (70).

ARMAGH: P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; A Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; J Lavery, K Toner; J Feeney, C Vernon, M Mackin; R Henderson, G Swift, S McDonnell.

Subs: P Kernan for Swift (46), T Kernan for Henderson (53), M McNamee for Mackin (64).

Referee: G O Conamha (Galway).

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