Armagh 4-15 Antrim 0-14
It was far from convincing, but Armagh are through to the last four of the Ulster Championship. 13 points separated the sides in the end, although the game was much closer than the scoreline suggests.
It’s rare that frustration would follow such an emphatic victory, but that’s just one of the emotions Kieran McGeeney will be feeling this evening.
It wasn’t until the final quarter than Armagh really opened up a considerable gap. Goals from Clann Eireann duo Conor Turbitt and Tiernan Kelly putting the game beyond doubt.
At half time, the Orchard County were ahead. Just. Rory Grugan struck his first ever goal in the provincial series to see his side two up at the break.
That goal, followed by a point from Ciaron O’Hanlon, opened up a four-point margin. The deficit was halved by the water break.
Armagh lay back in a defensive shell for long periods of the opening half and invited Antrim on. The Saffron’s were able to work some scorable chances.
Grugan saw another effort on goal drift just wide, while Blaine Hughes kept a clean sheet with an excellent first half save.
Connaire Mackin also got in on the scoring action and the Shane O’Neill’s native enjoyed one of his finest games in the orange and white.
A more controlled Armagh took the field for the second half with Grugan, Rian O’Neill and Jarly Og Burns all pointing early.
Ross Finn found O’Neill with a beautiful diagonal ball and the Crossmaglen star split the posts after being fouled.
Armagh latched on to a fumbled back pass from the resulting kick out and Grugan was upended in the box.
O’Neill fired home the loose ball but was called back for a spot kick. The same result followed and finally the hosts had some breathing space with a six-point advantage.
Six became nine when Jemar Hall played an excellent ball over the top of the Antrim full-back to find the on-running Turbitt.
‘Turbo’ still had plenty to do, and he shimmied onto his right foot to slot home Armagh’s third goal.
Grugan and O’Neill raised white flags while Paddy Burns chipped in with his first ever point in the championship.
Tiernan Kelly’s three-pointer on his debut was the icing on the cake, but it won’t be enough to paper over the cracks.
Kieran McGeeney will know his side have lots to improve on but are where they want to be and that’s the semi-final of the Ulster Championship.
They face an in-form Monaghan side in two weeks’ time and the battle begins for a spot in the showpiece.
Armagh Team: Blaine Hughes, James Morgan, Connaire Mackin (0-1), Ross Finn, Greg McCabe (0-1), Ciaron O’Hanlon (0-1), Aaron McKay, Niall Grimley, Oisin O’Neill (0-1), Jemar Hall, Rian O’Neill (1-5, 1 pen 5f), Jarly Og Burns (0-2), Rory Grugan (1-2), Andrew Murnin, Stefan Campbell. Subs: Conor Turbitt (1-1) for A. Murnin, Tiernan Kelly (1-0) for S. Campbell, Conor O’Neill for N. Grimley, Paddy Burns (0-1, mark) for A. McKay, Brendan Donaghy for G. McCabe.
Antrim Team: Luke Mulholland, Eoghan McCabe, Ricky Johnston, Peter Healy, Marc Jordan, James Laverty, Dermot McAleese (0-2), Conor Stewart, Niall McKeever (0-1), Ryan Murray (0-3 2f), Mick McCann, Patrick McBride (0-2), Odhran Eastwood (0-1 mark), Ruairi McCann (0-2 2f), Conor Murray (0-2 1f). Subs: Tomas McCann for R. Murray, Conor Small (0-1) for P. McBride, Mark Sweeney for C. Stewart, Kevin Small for O. Eastwood, Eunan Walsh for M. Jordan.