Saturday evening’s eventually comfortable six-point win, over a plucky but overwhelmed Sligo at Markievicz Park, was not without its hiccups but the attacking class of Rory Grugan, who scored 1-5, and substitute Niall Grimley, scorer of six points, made the difference.
There was luck, too, as Armagh’s goal — scored by Grugan four minutes after the restart — came from Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney’s misdirected kick-out which gave possession to Armagh’s lethal captain.
Armagh, who led 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time, have erased their Ulster exit to Fermanagh by following up their decisive win over Westmeath with another qualifiers result that brimmed with attacking intent, despite a 31st-minute black card for wing-back Aidan Forker and attacker Ethan Rafferty’s absence through injury.
The home side, who finished with 13 players due to late red cards for Adrian Marren and Charlie Harrison, scored 1-1 deep into second-half stoppage-time — the consolation goal coming from Cian Breheny — to trim Armagh’s winning margin from 10 to six points. 20-year-old Liam Gaughan also impressed, kicking seven of Sligo’s 13 points.
Kieran McGeeney, the Armagh manager, was pleased with the win over Sligo but was mindful of the calibre of opposition that his side will face in the backdoor’s next stage.
“It was a good result, I suppose. The last five minutes took a bit of a sheen off it. In the first 10 or 15 minutes we played some decent football and should have been more ahead. We were playing against a very strong breeze [in the first half] so I was happy enough. There was one period where they [Sligo] had three or four points on the trot and we were a bit annoyed that we couldn’t get our hands on the ball.”
He continued: “Against that breeze we dropped a few shots short but we were still very competitive and we probably could have had two goals as well. It wasn’t that we were annoyed we just expected more from ourselves. We knew it could be a sticky game, there is plenty of pace about in this Sligo team — they scored 1-12 against Galway and Galway would be seen as having one of the meanest defences around. After losing Aidan [Forker] to a black card, it was still good to put 20 scores on the board. “We’re in the hat for the next round but it is going to be a massive step up, there are a lot of Division One and Division Two teams there,” he added.
Sligo manager Cathal Corey was frustrated at how his charges, who somewhat redeemed themselves following their embarrassing Connacht semi-final loss to Galway, coughed up scores either side of the interval.
“We played well and at times in the first half I thought we battled well. We got some great scores and maybe should have been a few scores up at half-time.
“We were going well and then we conceded three points just before half-time, and a goal just after the restart. That left a few scores in it and they [Armagh] were strong in defence and well-organised. That made it hard for us to get in for the major scores that we needed to turn the game.
“That is something we have to work on, seeing out the first half when we have a lead. We conceded scores just before half-time against Galway as well.”
The Tyrone native’s future as Sligo boss will hinge on discussions between himself and Sligo County Board.
One of Sligo’s substitutes, Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch, already played earlier on Saturday when helping the county’s hurlers to Lory Meagher Cup success at Croke Park.
Liam Gaughan (0-7, 5f), Cian Breheny (1-0), Niall Murphy (0-3, 1f), Adrian Marren (0-2, 2f), Sean Carrabine (0-1)
Rory Grugan (1-5, 1f), Niall Grimley (0-6, 4f), Ryan McShane (0-2), Jemar Hall (0-1), Blaine Hughes (0-1, 1f), Andrew Murnin (0-1), Stephen Sheridan (0-1), Joe McElroy (0-1), Connaire Mackin (0-1).
A Devaney, C Harrison, L Nicholson, M Gordon, N Ewing, A McIntyre, C Breheny, K McDonnell, N Murphy, S Carrabine, L Gaughan, P O’Connor, K Cawley, P Hughes, A Marren.
G O’Kelly-Lynch for C Breheny, 14 (‘blood’ sub); G O’Kelly-Lynch for L Nicholson, 49; C Henry for M Gordon, 57; F Cawley for Carrabine, 65, J Clarke for P O’Connor, 69, N Rooney for P Hughes, 69; K Henry for L Gaughan, 70+2
B Hughes, P Burns, A McKay, G McCabe, M Shields, B Donaghy, A Forker, C Vernon, C Mackin, R Grugan, J Hall, C Higgins, R McShane, A Murnin, O Mac Iomhair
N Grimley for A Forker, 31 (black card); S Sheridan for C Higgins, 35; N Rowland for G McCabe, 57 (black card); J McElroy for O Mac Iomhair, 60; A Duffy for R McShane, 68; O Lappin for A McKay, 68.
: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).