Shouldn’t we have seen this coming? Armagh had momentum. They looked to be enjoying their football more too. Exemplified by Jamie Clarke, they were playing with a joie de vivre that had been missing these past few years.
ARMAGH ............ 1-17
And Kildare? Well, they were cursed, weren’t they? On Saturday, they became the eighth consecutive Leinster runners-up to be defeated in the subsequent qualifier. On each occasion, Dublin has played a part in their demise, even in 2010 when they came through the backdoor.
Although Cian O’Neill wanted to make light of that. “If anything, it was the opposite. People were saying how well we did, which we found almost a little bit patronising because we were beaten by nine points by a far superior team on the day. I think for us, we needed to focus on the things that let us down. Execution and needless turnovers. They came back to haunt us. I don’t think it was that (losing to Dublin). We didn’t get to grips with the game early on, I think that’s what cost us. We were creating good chances and didn’t execute. They were creating those same chances and did. That was the difference.”
But O’Neill knows he can’t as easily shove away Kildare’s dismal Croke Park record in his term, which now reads one victory in six outings. That solitary win was a hiccupping 0-9 to 0-8 Leinster quarter-final defeat of Wexford last year in which they managed just two second-half points. “There’s a trend that can’t be denied. But I think if you look at the matches where we have lost, one was a league final, so you’re playing a team of equal ability who are going to be in Division 1 next year. One was a Leinster final, where you’re playing the best team in the country. And then this, which is the one that will really rankle because we felt we were in a really good space coming into this match.
“What happened two years ago or three years ago is irrelevant. Because this is a totally new team with a totally new system. Last year, it was a very young and inexperienced team and we got disappointingly defeated against a Westmeath team we should have beaten. But I just think that’s faulty logic. We didn’t perform when it mattered most.”
Despite promotion to Division 1, O’Neill described the year as “underwhelming” whereas Armagh selector Paddy McKeever, again taking media duties for Kieran McGeeney, admitted an All-Ireland quarter-final spot was privately a goal of the group at the start of the year.
As O’Neill said, they were more clinical not just in their finishing but defending too. Kildare had to rely on individuals making interventions to cut out good ball into the Armagh inside line whereas the winners worked better as a collective to break up their opponents’ attacks.
For the last 18 minutes of action, they played a significant part in Kildare failing to score from play. In the 56th minute, Paddy Brophy had put Kildare ahead for the first time since the 29th minute but it turned out to be their penultimate score. Clarke expertly sent over an equaliser and that and was followed by a Rory Grugan free when Keith Cribbin was black carded for a desperate foul on sub Joe McElroy.
Brendan Donaghy sauntered up the field to deliver the next point and double Armagh’s lead and while a Kevin Feely free cut the gap to one he failed to convert a second one when Ethan Rafferty infringed on Fionn Dowling. Instead, it was Rafferty, after the following kick-out was won, who posted the point of the game in the 66th minute and Niall Grimley added a free as the troublesome Clarke was illegitimately impeded by Mark Hyland. Kildare, who hadn’t a sniff of goal, couldn’t muster a response of any note.
That Rafferty turnaround was in keeping with the nature of the game. In the 54th minute, Fergal Conway had done brilliantly to collect a ball over Gavin McParland and take his point only for the Armagh man to respond seconds later with a score at the other end. It sent out the signal that whatever Kildare threw at them Armagh would absorb.
Armagh deserved their 1-8 to 0-8 half-time lead. Clarke hadn’t yet caught fire but his workrate was evident. Kildare had almost twice as many scoring opportunities and Armagh went 12 minutes without a score but it was they who were so much more dangerous going forward. With five different scorers, twice they had led by two points in the opening 13 minutes and they stretched that to three with another first-time point-taker in Aidan Forker in the 18th minute.
Kildare, who had lost shape in committing too many bodies to moves, rebounded with four consecutive points to sneak ahead before Stefan Campbell claimed a point. A minute later, Andrew Murnin bundled the ball to the net after Grugan had teed him up. McParland followed it up with his second point of the game. A sharp Niall Kelly score gave Kildare something to go in with at the break but it was Armagh who were quickest out of the traps in the second half, Clarke again prominent. Kildare eventually pegged them back but not for long. Their mental frailties or were Armagh too irresistible? A little from column A, a little from column B.
Scorers for Armagh: A. Murnin (1-1); J. Clarke (0-4); G. McParland (0-3); R. Grugan, N. Grimley (0-2, 1 free each); A. Forker, S. Campbell, J. McElroy, B. Donaghy, E. Rafferty (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kildare: K. Feely (0-5, frees), P. Brophy (0-3); N. Kelly, K. Cribbin, F. Conway (0-2 each); M. Donnellan (free), B. McCormack, D. Flynn (0-1 each).
ARMAGH: B. Hughes 7; J. Morgan 8, P. Hughes 6; B. Donaghy 7; A. McKay 5, M. Shields 7, A. Forker 6; S. Sheridan 7, N. Grimley 7; R. Grugan (c) 8, S. Campbell 7, C. Vernon 7; J. Clarke 9, A. Murnin 7, G. McParland 7.
Subs for Armagh: J. McElroy 8 for A. McKay (38); C. O’Hanlon 7 for A. Forker (45); E. Rafferty 7 for A. Murnin (inj 48); O. O’Neill 6 for S. Campbell (49); A. Duffy 6 for R. Grugan (64).
KILDARE: M. Donnellan 6; P. Kelly 6, M. O’Grady 7, O. Lyons 6; D. Hyland 7; K. Cribbin 7, J. Byrne 6, D. Slattery 6; K. Feely (c) 6, P. Cribbin 6; F. Conway 8, N. Kelly 6, B. McCormack 7; P. Brophy 7, D. Flynn 6.
Subs for Kildare: C. McNally 6 for B. McCormack (45); F. Dowling 7 for D. Slattery (51); M. Hyland 6 for P. Kelly (56); C. O’Donoghue 6 for K. Cribbin (black, 59); E. O’Callaghan 6 for N. Kelly (64); T. Moolick 6 for D. Flynn (68).
Referee: D. O’Mahoney (Tipperary).
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