A relatively youthful and inexperienced Armagh side made the long trek to Bray on Sunday to take on a Wicklow side who narrowly missed out on promotion last year. Minus the Middletown contingent, whose All-Ireland run unfortunately came to an end against a strong Kanturk side on Saturday, as well as a number of injuries, it was a baptism of fire for new Armagh manager, Paddy Kelly. Armagh lined out with just five of last year’s starting line-up in the Nicky Rackard final, the Armagh side contained a number of debutants and first starts.
Wicklow got off to a quick start with an early point, but an Eoin McGuinness effort settled the visitors momentarily. The game was just two minutes old when a high ball in led to an Armagh foul in the small square, with Wicklow duly dispatching the resultant penalty. They added another, before Connor McAnallen put over his first point from the dead ball. Scores were traded, but with Wicklow clearing up from the puck out, they pushed ahead with two quick scores. McAnallen continued his accuracy and Conleth Lavery took full advantage of the wind to sail one over from 65 yards. Another Wicklow score from a 65 was followed up by three Armagh scores, two through McAnallen and one from his club mate, Nathan Green, as the visitors worked ferociously to win back ball.
With the gap down to one, the Wicklow number 11 won the puck out and cut through the Armagh defence to finish to the net and put a dampener on the Armagh revival. However, Armagh were not to lie down and the ball was worked into the full forward line before Dylan McKenna finished to the net to leave the score at Wicklow 2-6 Armagh 1-8. The green flag was soon raised again as Wicklow hit their third three pointer, which was followed up by a converted 65. With half time approaching, Armagh were awarded a penalty as great work from Eoin McGuinness freed up Paddy McGrane who was brought down, but the Wicklow keeper stopped McAnallen’s shot and the ball was worked up the field for a Wicklow point. A further Armagh free left the half time score Cill Mhantáin 3-8 Ard Mhacha 1-9.
Wicklow racked up the scores in the second half including a fourth goal 15 minutes into the half, which virtually wrapped up the win as they led 4-16 to 1-10. A second Armagh penalty, awarded after a great run from Odhrán McCann, was superbly stopped yet again by the Wicklow keeper. David McCreesh, Patrick Quinn, Damien McGrane and David Grant were introduced and while Wicklow continued with their scoring spree, scores from McAnallen and a great strike from Killeavy debutant, Grant, were all that Armagh could muster in the second half. Full time Cill Mhantáin 4-20 Ard Mhacha 1-12
In spite of the heavy defeat, Armagh can take a number of positives into next week’s home tie against Maigh Eo. Manager Paddy Kelly will be pleased with the performances of the younger members of the panel, particularly Glenn McKeown, Conleth Lavery, Odhrán McCann and Caolán Rice, and will look forward to the remainder of the league campaign.
Ard Mhacha: Simon Doherty, Ciarán Clifford, Artie Magennis, Caolán Rice, Conleth Lavery, Stephen Renaghan, Glenn McKeown, Odhrán McCann, Barry Shortt, Paddy McGrane, Nathan Green, Eoin McGuinness, Danny Magee, Dylan McKenna, Connor McAnallen
Subs used: David McCreesh, Patrick Quinn, Damien McGrane, David Grant
Pictures by Mark Richards