James Laverty, Antrim, and Rian O'Neill, Armagh, in Ulster SFC action.
James Laverty, Antrim, and Rian O'Neill, Armagh, in Ulster SFC action.

Ulster SFC: Improving Armagh advance

Ulster Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final


By Declan Bogue at the Athletic Grounds

Thirteen points in it at the end, and still Armagh needed a rocket at half-time according to Rory Grugan to get themselves motoring. They answered the challenge empathically to show once again the benefit of playing league football in the top flight.

They went in at the break 1-6 to 0-7 up, the goal coming from Gruganafter two glorious kick passes from Rian O’Neill and Stefan Campbell. But they found Antrim hard to shake off while their own approach of bombing a series of long balls forward dwindling in terms of productivity.

Antrim were buzzing around with plenty of productivity and they had a goal chance spurned on 27 minutes when they might have taken the lead. The move started when Michael McCann stole possession off a loose solo from Jemar Hall and initiated a move with Ryan Murray, Conor Murray for Odhran Eastwood to take the shot, but Orchard goalkeeper Blaine Hughes kept the shot out with his legs.

The third quarter before the second half water break has become as critical in Gaelic football as it is in Australian Rules. Over there it is known as ‘Championship Quarter’ and here Armagh blitzed Antim 1-5 to 0-2 in that period.

The second goal came when Antrim’s debutant goalkeeper Luke Mulholland botched a short kickout and when he couldn’t fully commit to the return pass Grugan stole in to poke it past him. Mulholland caught his foot for a trip and referee Sean Hurson flung his arms wide for a penalty. Rian O’Neill drove it hard and low to Mulholland’s right.

At that stage, the Antrim challenge wilted. McCann, playing his first game this year was the most regal presence in the first half but he visibly tired along with the likes of Paddy McBride who was replaced.

The third goal came whenRicky Johnston couldn’t handle the lively substitute Conor Turbitt who squeezed a shot home from a tight angle. The final goal was the last play of the game with fellow replacement Tiernan Kelly crashing home.

Antrim manager Enda McGinley wore the expression of a man afterwards not used to defeats of this scale. In his playing career, he didn’t have too many of them.

Armagh will not face Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final in a game that for both sides be a far greater test of their abilities than the quarter-finals.

Scorers for Armagh: R O’Neill (1-5 1-0 pen, 5f), R Grugan (1-2), C Turbitt (1-1), T Kelly (1-0), J Óg Burns (0-2), C Mackin, G McCabe, C O’Hanlon, O O’Neill (0-1 each), P Burns (0-1, mark)

Scorers for Antrim: R Murray (0-3, 2f), R McCann (0-2f), D McAleese (0-2), P McBride (0-2), C Murray (0-2, 1f), N McKeever, C Small (0-1 each), O Eastwood (0-1mark)

ARMAGH: B Hughes; J Morgan, C Mackin, R Finn; G McCabe, C O’Hanlon, A McKay; N Grimley, O O’Neill; J Hall, R O’Neill, J Óg Burns; R Grugan, A Murnin, S Campbell

Subs: C Turbitt for Murnin (HT), T Kelly for Campbell (46m), C O’Neill for Grimley (49m), P Burns for McKay (59m), B Donaghy for McCabe (63m)

ANTRIM: L Mulholland ; E McCabe, R Johnston, P Healy; M Jordan, J Laverty, D McAleese ; C Stewart, N McKeever ; R Murray, M McCann, P McBride ; O Eastwood, R McCann, C Murray

Subs: T McCann for R Murray (45m), C Small for McBride (55m), M Sweeney for Stewart (55m), K Small for Eastwood (60m), E Walsh for Jordan (70m)

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).