Galway advance after breathless, controversial win over Armagh

The suspicion was that this would be the pick of the weekend’s four All-Ireland football quarter-finals and it lived up to the billing with its heady cocktail of competition, drama and controversy
Galway advance after breathless, controversial win over Armagh

ON THE MARCH: Galway players celebrate winning the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Armagh and Galway at Croke Park, Dublin. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Armagh 3-18 Galway 2-21 (Galway win 4-1 on penalties) 

The suspicion was that this would be the pick of the weekend’s four All-Ireland football quarter-finals and it lived up to the billing with its heady cocktail of competition, drama and controversy that only began to reach anything like a crescendo after 70 absorbing minutes.

The penalty shootout that settled everything wasn’t nearly the height of it.

It was as if the footballing gods got their own committee together during the last week and decided that, with the chance of all three other games producing damp squibs, they should pour every last drop of madness, enjoyment and rage into this one.

What was a good game for so long transcended into a truly great one.

A Johnny Heaney goal shortly after half-time, followed by a straight red card for Armagh’s Greg McCabe ten minutes from the end of normal time, set the scene for Galway to approach the last lap with half-a-dozen points to spare but, well, little did we know.

Two injury-time goals, one from Aidan Nugent and the other courtesy of Conor Turbitt, left the Ulster side just one point adrift and the rest was left up to talisman Rian O’Neill who landed a massive free with the last kick to prompt extra-time.

Cue bedlam. First off the field, then on it.

The GAA’s best face followed swiftly by its worst.

Adrenalin pumping, both sides thundered towards the dressing-rooms and one spark soon led to a conflagration with players and all sorts of others choking the approach to the tunnel. Most obvious amid the mayhem was what looked like an eye gouge on Damien Comer.

When the sides reappeared they found David Coldrick waiting for them with a stern face and his book in his hand after a long discussion with his officiating team and the Meath referee duly saw fit to show reds to Galway defender Sean Kelly and Armagh forward Aiden Nugent.

Lots of others will be fearing the repercussions that are certain to follow.

It was a shameful episode that darkened the mood on what was, that apart, a superb game and even better occasion in front of a sold-out Croke Park crowd as two sides fed off the scent of a semi-final slot against Derry and the opportunity to make a decider on the foot of it.

Thankfully, the bad blood dissipated and the momentum continued to buck and weave in extra-time with Rory Grugan’s goal being answered by another from Cillian McDaid and Jamar Hall’s superb point right near the end being cancelled by another glorious intervention from McDaid.

Breathless stuff.

Galway aced the shootout, Shane Walsh, Damien Comer, Robert Finnerty and Matthew Tierney all recording superbly-taken attempts and that was enough against an Armagh response that saw O’Neill’s conversion sandwiched by spoiled efforts from Stefan Campbell and Conor Turbitt.

Cue the Saw Doctors and the strains of ‘N17’.

Armagh’s enthusiasm for the occasion found them out on the pitch and warming-up a dozen minutes before their allotted slot. Galway opted to ease their way into it, their first attack eating up almost three minutes but with nothing to show at the end of it.

The Connacht side were too patient at times and, on others, far too rash with the ball. Armagh were calibrated far better in the opening exchanges and their direct and clinical attacks left them four points to one to the good through that opening quarter.

Galway’s willingness to go lateral with the ball was too much of a temptation at times but they did mix it up with the odd diagonal into the full-forwards and could have had a goal when Comer fisted one such pass, from Dylan McHugh, wide from close range.

They went 15 minutes between their first and second points but scoring came much easier as the half wore on and the hope vested in this meeting as a contest was being rewarded with all nine of the opening points coming from play.

The next four came from frees, but when Tierney tapped over his second score of the afternoon it left the counties level at 0-7 apiece at the break and no-one much the wiser as to who would come out on top.

Galway sought to change that on the restart.

Tierney rattling the crossbar looked like it might be a letoff for Armagh but the ball descended from the heavens and into the arms of McHugh. He returned it to Tierney who in turn had the presence of mind to feed an unmarked Johnny Heaney at the square’s edge.

Seconds later and Walsh had claimed his first point from play to leave Galway with a four-point lead and a half-hour to play. It was the biggest deficit either side had faced all afternoon but Armagh twice cut half of it from their ‘to do’ list.

Any chance of them eating further into that was badly compromised with ten minutes to go when McCabe attempted a shoulder challenge on Tierney but caught the Galway forward far too high and drew blood from the man in possession.

Referee Coldrick flashed the red card at McCabe shortly after and, while the Armagh man shook his head and his supporters in the stands let loose with a chorus of disapproval, it was the right decision in an age where concussion is such a scourge.

Galway looked to be cruising towards the last four after that as they tapped over a sprinkle of scores to stretch the lead to six points, but this one still had plenty of kicks in it and the first came just seconds after the announcement that there would be eight minutes of added time.

Nugent’s and Turbitt’s goals both emanated from Galway goalkeeper Conor Gleeson’s inability to clear his line and the orange flare that emerged off the Davin Stand when O’Neill landed his dead ball was matched by the fireworks at the mouth of the Cusack Stand.

A whole new ball game still awaited.

Scorers for Armagh: R Grugan (1-3, 0-2 frees); A Nugent (1-2, 0-1 mark); R O’Neill (0-4, 0-3 frees); C Turbitt (1-1); S Campbell (0-3); A McKay, J Og Burns, E Woods, J Kiernan and J Hall (all 0-1).

Scorers for Galway: S Walsh (0-6, 0-5 frees): C McDaid (1-2); R Finnerty (0-4); D Comer (0-3); J Heaney (1-0); M Tierney (0-2); K Molloy, P Kelly, P Conroy and F O Laoi (all 0-1).

Armagh: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, C O’Neill; A McKay, G McCabe, J Og Burns; S Sheridan, B Crealey; R Grugan, S Campbell, A Murnin; A Nugent, R O’Neill, J Duffy.

Subs: Connaire Mackin for Sheridan and C Turbitt for Murnin (both 43); Ciaran Mackin for McKay (55); E Woods for Duffy and J Kiernan for Burns (both 69); M Shields for Forker (75); J Hall for Grugan (83).

Galway: C Gleeson; L Silke, S Kelly, J Glynn; D McHugh, J Daly, K Molloy; P Conroy, C McDaid; P Kelly, M Tierney, J Heaney; R Finnerty, D Comer, S Walsh.

Subs: F O Laoi for McDaid (50-54), for Tierney (63-68); and for P Kelly (70); N Daly for Finnerty (75); O Gallagher for Walsh (79); J Foley for Silke (83); J Duffy for Crealey (85); C Sweeney for McHugh (89).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).

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