IT’S THE marching season in the north, but this was more of a stumble over the line for Paddy O’Rourke’s Armagh against a very green Fermanagh outfit before 7,000 fans at Brewster Park.
Fittingly, it was their very own grand master Stevie McDonnell who was the real difference between the sides as monsoon summer rain turned Brewster Park severely greasy underfoot.
McDonnell hit 0-6 in an imperious display and posed the main threat to the youthful Fermanagh side who made five changes for the better from their earlier disappointing defeat to Monaghan.
He had excellent support from yet another Clarke, Speed machine Jamie was the only other forward of any real pedigree and shrugged off a missed penalty after 50 seconds when his old adversary Ronan Gallagher brilliantly saved the spot kick after Malachy Mackin was hauled down.
The winners were leading 0-6 0-4 at that stage but Fermanagh were unable to make any real impression on the Orchard’s blanket defence in a match which was dominated by the shrill whistle of referee Derek Fahy at times.
Armagh were bigger, stronger and classier up front, while the losers showed stunning naivete every time they looked like overhauling their eternal nemeses.
Fermanagh’s only consistent threat was the swashbuckling Seamie Quigley, who looks like a throw back to the big loose limbed forwards of the pre cloned footballers.
Quigley hoofed over three superb long range points in the opening half, but he lacked support from his colleagues who kicked three crucial wides when Armagh were leading 0-7 to 0-5 midway through the second-half.
Both goalkeepers had a significant say in the outcome of this tepid encounter as giant Armagh keeper Paul Hearty brilliantly denied Fermanagh with a point blank save after just four minutes with the sides level at 0-1 apiece Big Ryan Carson gathered a mis-hit 45 from Seamus Quigley deep inside the Orchard defence. Carson’s blaster was brilliantly saved keeper Paul Hearty but both Paul Ward and Darryl Keeann were unable to put the ball into a yawning net.
The second-half opened explosively when the Fermanagh defence were caught wide open. Malachy Mackin was adjudged to have been fouled by Erne full-back Martin O’Brien but Ronan Gallagher superbly saved Stevie McDonnell’s well struck effort.
“Fair play to Ronan, I hit the penalty very well but he was even better,” said the man-of-the-match. “That came early in the second-half and it should have given them a boost. But I thought our lads showed what they were really made of by getting the next few scores.
“Our experience and ability to finish, although we hit 10 wides, was the difference between the teams. It is always difficult to come here to Brewster Park and this Fermanagh team showed loads of fighting spirit. They really put it up to us.”
Disappointed Fermanagh team boss Malachy O’Rourke admitted it was going to be very hard to get the “appetite to start the whole thing over again.
“We showed a lot of character and work rate and put some pride back in the jersey. But our composure and finish let us down and that is very disappointing for the lads.”
O’Rourke’s three-year term is up and he could be joining John Joe Doherty and John O’Mahoney in the ex-managers arena shortly.
Armagh scorers: S McDonnell (0-6, 3f), C Vernon (0-2), J Clarke (0-2), G Swift (0-1);
Fermanagh scorers; S Quigley (0-5, 2f, 1’45), T McElroy (0-1), D Keenan (0-1).
Armagh subs: K Toner for F Hanratty (ht), F Moriarty for K Dyas (ht), B Mallon for J Feeney (64).
Fermanagh subs: N McGovern for B Mulrone (44), R Gallagher for C Flaherty (50), M McGrath for R Jones (55), C O’Brien for P Ward (62).
Referee: D Fahy (Longford).
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