Impressive Armagh outmuscle Mayo

AN early goal and a strong finish proved decisive for Armagh as they capped their first ever visit to McHale Park, Castlebar with a crucial victory after a frantic Allianz National League tussle.

Mayo, who were out-of-sorts for long spells, never really recovered from the concession of a Brian Mallon goal after 35 seconds and found themselves outmuscled, time and again, by Armagh’s big men around the middle.

The winners played with the aid of a strong wind in the first half and were utterly dominant at times.

“We worked on trying to get a quick start, getting some scores on the board, and being hard to break down,” explained former Mayo footballer, Billy Joe Padden, who lined out for Armagh.

“It kind of worked out that way, even though Mayo got it back to a point at one stage and there were a couple of key balls won in the Armagh half-back line and we got back up the field.

“I think that shows there’s a good bit of spirit in the team. It was do-or-die at that stage, Mayo were coming on strong, and I was just glad that we had something left in the tank.”

A sensational goal from wing-back Paul Duffy on 16 minutes underlined Armagh’s superiority and left Mayo with too much to do after the break.

Veteran marksman Stevie McDonnell also delivered a typically assured display of kicking, despite the blustery conditions, and his six points proved crucial.

Despite trailing by 2-6 to 1-3 at the interval, Mayo did launch one of their customary second-half fightbacks and were within a point of their visitors 10 minutes from the end.

However, Armagh finished strongly and, driven on by midfielder Charlie Vernon, closed the game out, with late points from sub Johnny Murtagh and Ciaran McKeever.

These scores proved enough to see the winners leapfrog Mayo into fifth place in the league.

There was no disguising Mayo’s disappointment after their second home defeat in three attempts. Last year’s league finalists have picked up just three points from a possible eight, and James Horan was making no excuses.

“It’s very disappointing to concede a goal so early. We’ve talked before about our start not being great, and it wasn’t great again today.

“Their second goal was disappointing too. We didn’t track the runner. A man ran the length of the field and kicked it into the net. That’s not good enough from our point of view so there are plenty of errors to work on during the week.”

The partisan home crowd were silenced early on as Armagh laid siege to Kenneth O’Malley’s goal.

Brian Mallon’s excellent finish set the visitors on their way before Paul Duffy smacked a pile-driver past O’Malley a quarter of an hour later to open up a six-point gap.

With Charlie Vernon, Kieran Toner, Mal Mackin and the roving Billy Padden on top around the middle, a string of long-range points quickly followed from Stevie McDonnell (two) and Toner to put even more daylight between the sides.

Mayo had scored just three points (two from Aidan Campbell frees) by the 35th minute but newcomer Jason Doherty squeezed in a well-taken goal just before half-time to stem the tide.

There were still six points between the sides midway through the second half as Mayo’s wind-assisted efforts struggled to make inroads against Armagh’s defensive formation.

However, the introduction of Ronan McGarrity helped to turn the midfield tide and unanswered points from Alan Dillon (two), Andy Moran and Aidan Kilcoyne pared the gap back to the minimum after 60 minutes.

Remarkably, Mayo failed to score for the rest of the game as Armagh recovered their composure and substitute Johnny Murtagh ended a 20-minute spell without a score in the 63rd minute to restore some breathing space.

The inspirational Ciaran McKeever also hit the target late on as Paddy O’Rourke’s team kept Mayo at arm’s length.

“We were pushed around the place,” conceded James Horan.

“We were running into tackles with the ball and they seemed to be stronger than us. That was something we haven’t come across this year, that physicality. But we should have been better prepared for it.”

Scorers for Mayo: J Doherty 1-1, A Moran 0-3, A Campbell 0-3f, A Dillon 0-2 (1f), A Kilcoyne 0-1.

Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (4fs), B Mallon, P Duffy 1-0 each, K Toner, C Vernon, C McKeever, J Murtagh 0-1 each.

Subs for Mayo: R Feeney for Gardiner, R McGarrity for Parsons, E Varley for Kilcoyne, A O’Shea for McLoughlin.

Subs for Armagh: J Laverty for Toner, J Murtagh for O’Rourke, R Grugan for Mackin, C Watters for Mallon.

Referee: S Doyle (Wexford).

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