Armagh 0-18 Meath 0-13
Armagh’s odyssey continued at Croke Park, where the Orchard men downed Meath to reach the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals.
A season that appeared to be heading for melt-down following relegation to Division Three of the National Football League has become something of a revelation for Paul Grimley’s side.
Even without inspirational captain Kieran McKeever, they steamrolled the Royals to win by five, and it should have been more.
The Leinster men had no answer to the second lalf intensity that Armagh brought to the game, and their finishing was right out of the top drawer.
Even though Donal Keogan held Jame Clarke to a single point, Armagh were able to produce scores aplenty from elsewhere, with 10 different players figuring in the score-sheet as they eased through to a last eight joust.
The Royals eased ahead with early scores from Andrew Tormey and Mickey Newman, but they could have paid dearly for a lack of communication between goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke and Adam Flanagan, however Jamie Clarke opted to take his point.
Clarke was the instigator for Aidan Forker’s leveller, and it was Tony Kernan who gave the Orchard men the lead for the first time from a 14th minute free.
Meath came close when Shane O’Rourke’s surge through the middle released Newman on goal, but he smashed his angled shot against the crossbar.
Stefan Campbell had a chance at the other end moments later, but his tame effort was easily dealt with by Paddy O’Rourke.
Both sides were guilty of a succession of poor misses, Meath firing a string of wides, while their opponents landed a handful of efforts safely into the arms of the goalkeeper.
Forker did prove himself the man with the golden touch, however, landing his third point to open up a three points lead for the Ulster men with ten minutes to play in the opening half.
With both playing with sweepers and operating two-man inside forward lines, defences were difficult to break down, but Kevin Dyas looked the most likely to prise openings in the Royal rearguard, and when he sent Kyle Carragher through for a 27th minute score, Armagh were 0-6 to 0-2 to the good.
Royal composure and focus began to wear thin as the game wore on, and they had gone 25 minutes without a score and fallen six points behind when suddenly they began to make their dominance around midfield count.
They kicked the final five points of the half, including two from Newman and an excellent effort from substitute Graham Reilly to go in at the break trailing by just one, 0-8 to 0-7.
The sides exchanged scores at a frenetic rate in the early stages of the second half, with Meath ‘keeper O’Rourke converting a 54 metre free to bring them level on 0-10 each.
But two classy Aaron Kernan points contrived to keep Armagh noses just ahead, despite the growing influence of Graham Reilly and Shane O’Rourke.
Aaron Findon’s workrate around midfield helped the Orchard to force ahead with points from Stefan Campbell and Dyas, and they were four points to the good going into the final 10 minutes.
Paddy O’Rourke thumped another monster free between the posts, and Reilly notched his second, but two scores from substitute Brian Mallon maintained Armagh supremacy, and they were denied a goal when O’Rourke pulled off a wonderful save from Mark Shields.
And solid defending from Andy Mallon and Charlie Vernon helped stifle Meath’s late efforts to rescue the game.
Meath: P O’Rourke (0-2, 2f), M Burke, B Menton, D Keogan, D Carroll (0-1), P Harnan, D Tobin, B Meade, A Flanagan, S O’Rourke, B McMahon, A Tormey (0-1), D Bray (0-2, 1f), S Bray, M Newman (0-4, 3f, 1 ’45).
Subs: G Reilly (0-3) for Meade, E Harrington for Carroll, D McDonagh for S Bray, J Wallace for D Bray, P Gilsenan for McDonagh, Meade for S O’Rourke
Armagh: P McEvoy, J Morgan, C Vernon, A Mallon, M Shields (0-1), B Donaghy, A Kernan (0-2), S Harold, A Findon, A Forker (0-3), K Dyas (0-1), T Kernan (0-3, 2f), K Carragher (0-1), S Campbell (0-3), J Clarke (0-1).
Subs: M Murray for Morgan, R Grugan for Carragher, B Mallon (0-2) for Forker, S Forker (0-1) for T Kernan, F Moriarty for Donaghy
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).