Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-7: Where to now for Armagh and the five-year revolution under Kieran McGeeney after this limp, uninspiring, and naive performance, during which they went an entire hour without scoring from play?
They have another year to run under the present arrangement, but the stats are so, so ugly. This is the fourth year they have entered the Ulster Championship and they depart again without a win.
Fermanagh pulled their wing forwards so wide, they had chalk on their boots. Armagh defenders stayed touch-tight, allowing a chasm of space to open up and Barry Mulrone, Declan McCusker, and Ryan Jones twice stormed through to kick points that had the home side 0-6 to 0-4 up at the break.
After the second half began, Armagh midfielder Niall Grimley saw red after catching Sean Quigley with a forearm, Seamus Quigley converting the long-range free to ramp home their advantage.
“We were just poor,” said McGeeney afterwards.
“There’s not much point in saying anything else. I thought we were ready for it, well prepared but it was just a different team that showed up, We just couldn’t seem to get our scoring boots going at all.”
He was right in one sense, Armagh clipping eight second-half wides but there was no excuses to be made when they were so comprehensively beaten for appetite and battling qualities.
They were rattled on the line when their selector Paddy McKeever gave Rory Gallagher a shove and was sent to the line, thereby robbing Armagh of an on-field runner.
Under Rory Gallagher, there is a far more ruthless edge to this Fermanagh side, but also a whole lot more composure, displayed perfectly by a rare point in the second half from Lee Cullen after they teased the Armagh defence wing to wing, before Kane Connor popped a pass over the cover for Cullen to slot over.
“I am delighted for these players. There is one line that was sticking out at the start of the year — they hadn’t beaten a team that was ranked above them as such,” said Gallagher afterwards.
“Eoin Donnelly, Paul and Decky (McCusker), Che and Lee (Cullen), Kane Connor, Conall and Ryan (Jones), they are playing a long time and they had nothing to show for it against a higher-ranked team.
“They feel they have not been successful enough in Championship and that is one thing we said at the start of the year, we need to beat Armagh in the Ulster Championship and whatever happens after that, we move on.”
While Fermanagh conceded 28 frees to Armagh’s 21, they played with a controlled fury that spooked their opponents.
“That’s a huge learning curve this year,” added Gallagher. “The games we have lost, that has cost us this year. Tyrone in McKenna Cup, Sean in the league final. Westmeath we lost a man.
“The boys wanted it so badly and it is a fine line, that controlled aggression.”
They limited Armagh to just two points from play in the entire game.
“There are two parts of Gaelic football and you have got to play to your strengths as well,” added Gallagher.
“We work equally hard at both and I would be bitterly disappointed we only finished with 12 points, we didn’t make the most of some of the breaks we had and maybe we were a bit sloppy and tired.”
Four second-half points from Seamus Quigley, the insurance point an effort sensibly fisted over the bar when a goal might have been on, was enough to coast home in the end.
They now advance to an Ulster semi-final.
Armagh go into the qualifiers but really, a lot of fans of Gaelic football in the county will be wondering what the point of it all is.
Scorers for Fermanagh:
Sean Quigley (0-6, 5 frees); R Jones (0-2); B Mulrone, L Cullen, D McCusker, Sean Quigley (0-1 each)
Scorers for Armagh:
R Grugan (0-3 frees); E Rafferty (0-2, 1 free); M Shields, G McParland (0-1 each)
P Cadden; K Connor, C Cullen, M Jones; B Mulrone, J McMahon, L Cullen; E Donnelly, R Jones; P McCusker, D McCusker, A Breen; Sean Quigley, C Jones, Seamus Quigley
C Corrigan for Sean Quigley (57m), D Teague for P McCusker (63m), E Maguire for Breen (66m), C McManus for Connor (72), T Clarke for C Jones (74m)
B Hughes; P Burns, C Mackin, A McKay; C Vernon, G McCabe, A Forker; B Donaghy, N Grimley; R McShane, M Shields, B Crealey; G McParland, A Murnin, E Rafferty
N Rowland for Crealey (31m), J McElroy for Mackin (44m), R Grugan for McParland (47m), J Hall for McShane (51m), E McGeown for Rafferty (61m), A Findon for Grugan (BC - 74m)
Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)
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