Allianz National Football League Division One
Armagh 1-11 Monaghan 0-13 20/2/11
Monaghan just missed out on a second successive win in the NFL Division One when they lost by the narrowest of margins to Armagh at the impressively-redeveloped Athletic Grounds on Sunday. Monaghan trailed by just a point at half-time, having played against a strong wind in the first half, and they went on to lead by two points on a couple of occasions in the second half, but a Brian Mallon goal turned it in favour of Armagh. The sides were level no less than eight times and few would have complained if it had ended in a draw, but Armagh snatched the win thanks to an injury-time point by Andy Mallon. Andy Mallon, Steven McDonnell, Rory Grugan and Paul Duffy led the way for Armagh, while Darren Hughes was immense at full-back in his return to action for Monaghan, who also had fine performances from Dessie Mone, Conor McManus, Colin Walshe and Gavin Doogan.
The early stages were dominated by very physical exchanges, which saw a number of players booked and a succession of scores from frees. Seven McDonnell opened the scoring for Armagh from a 30-metre free after a foul on Gareth Swift, but a pair of close-range frees by Paul Finlay, following fouls on Christopher McGuinness and Conor McManus, edged Monaghan ahead. Rory Grugan equalised from a 20-metre free after a foul on Swift, before McManus tapped over a 13-metre free for a foul on McGuinness. Grugan pointed another free after he had been fouled, before McManus got the game’s first score from play on 25 minutes, with a fine finish at the end of a flowing counter-attack which had been started by a great catch by Darren Hughes in his own full-back line and which also involved Neil McAdam, Conor Galligan and Dessie Mone. Grugan hit a point from play after good work by Charlie Vernon and McDonnell, before McGuinness missed a great goal chance after he had been put through by David Hughes. McDonnell kicked a good point from a difficult angle to give Armagh a one-point lead, which he doubled from a 25-metre free, after a foul on Malachy Mackin. Monaghan stayed in touch, though, as Finlay converted a 20-metre free for a foul on Dick Clerkin, which would surely have earned Brendan Donaghy a yellow card, only for the fact that the referee’s notebook lay on the ground at the other end of the pitch. Armagh went in at half-time with a 0-6 to 0-5 advantage.
McManus took just about half-a-minute to hit the first point of the second half, after he had been well-placed by a Dick Clerkin free. A Mark Downey point sent Monaghan in front, but Grugan replied from a 20-metre free after a foul on Vernon and a Micheál O’Rourke point regained the lead for the hosts. Finlay brought Monaghan level when he sent over at the end of a well-worked move involving McAdam, McGuinness and Clerkin and he followed it up with a 40-metre free, after a foul on McAdam. Finlay then powered over a 50-metre free for a foul on Clerkin, with the referee correctly awarding the score after consulting his umpires, one of whom had signalled a wide. Monaghan were unable to move more than two points clear, despite a few close calls, including a Clerkin shot which hit the upright. A brace of well-taken left-footed points by McDonnell – the latter after strong work by Vernon and Swift – brought Armagh back on level terms, though, with 12 minutes left. Finlay kicked his seventh point, from a 20-metre free after a foul on McManus, who added a fine point from play after taking a pass from Downey. Armagh got a break seven minutes from time when a point-attempt by McDonnell hung in the wind and fell kindly for substitute Brian Mallon to fire the loose ball home for the only goal of the game. McManus held his nerve to equalise from a 45-metre free, after he had been fouled off-the-ball, but Armagh struck for a late winner when Andy Mallon started an attack which finished with him taking the ball from Swift and producing a cool finish which wasn’t exactly typical of a corner-back. It won’t get any easier for Monaghan, who face the long trip to Cork to play the All-Ireland champions next Sunday, but Eamon McEneaney and co can take a number of positives from this game, in spite of the result.
Armagh: P McEvoy; B Donaghy, C McKeever, A Mallon (0-1); P Duffy, F Moriarty, K Dyas; K Toner, C Vernon; R Grugan (0-4, 3f), M O’Rourke (0-1), M Mackin; BJ Padden, G Swift, S McDonnell (Capt., 0-5, 2f).
Subs: B Mallon (1-0) for Padden (55 mins), J Lavery for Mackin (56).
Monaghan: M Keogh; K Duffy, Darren Hughes, C Walshe; David Hughes, D Mone (Capt.), C Galligan; N McAdam, D Clerkin; G Doogan, M Downey (0-1), J Turley; C McGuinness, P Finlay (0-7, 6f), C McManus (0-5, 2f).
Subs: T Freeman for McGuinness (55), O Lennon for Turley (61), S Smyth for Downey (67).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).