Last-minute Rian O’Neill score rescues point for Armagh against Mayo

Mayo went five points up with 10 minutes left but Orchard County came firing back

Armagh 0-17 Mayo 0-17

Mayo sure court the crazy finish. A week after raging against the dying of the match to draw level with Galway in Castlebar, they allowed Armagh to turn that tactic back on them, their frantic fightback in injury time finished off with a Rian O’Neill free.

It looked softly awarded, about 30 metres out from goal, but O’Neill made absolutely no mistake. Cue hysterical celebrations at the old Athletic Grounds, where every member of a sell-out 14,113 crowd made themselves heard.

In the end some of the Mayo players looked properly startled, not quite sure how they hadn’t won, in direct contrast to Armagh’s surprise at how they’d snatched the draw. Every point counts.


It wasn’t underserved, but when Mayo went five points up (0-17 to 0-13) thanks to a sweet free from goalkeeper Colm Reape, with three minutes of normal time remaining, Armagh appeared cooked. The excellent Rory Grugan snatched back a free, before the announcement of six minutes of additional time sounded like a siren for revolution in the air.

Armagh made full use of that time, pressing all 15 men forward, with goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty nearly caught well out from his goal, only for Eoghlan McLaughlin to fire wide. Armagh smelled blood.

First the lively Conor Turbitt pointed from play, quickly followed by O’Neill’s point, then a 45-metre free, before he drew out the equaliser all by himself. It was a lesson in resilience and never giving up the chase.

When Kevin McStay was asked to put words on it he only drew out the positive, the Mayo manager apparently not at all disturbed at surrendering a winning advantage.

“I’m straight away going to put very positive words, from a Mayo perspective, " he said. “I know we were five up, and most people will concentrate on that. But I’m not going to go down that road, I’m going to concentrate on what got us there, really good, smart positive play, great attitude, energy, enthusiasm.

“A terrific game to be involved in, this was championship stuff, essentially, great atmosphere, a fantastic ground, and we knew Armagh were going to come back at us, in every sense, and I tip my hat to them. It wasn’t easy on them to make good choices in the last 10 minutes either.

“It’s only week two of the national league, there’s lots for us to tidy up, but we did have a real shot of it. We’ve a national league point, and when the totting is done in round seven it will be a very important point.”

Starting out in blinding sunshine, Armagh put down first command, limiting Mayo’s influence too. Only when Mayo got back level in the 48th minute did they kick on hard, playing some superb attacking football and looking lively all over the field. Aidan O’Shea led from the front, Ryan O’Donoghue was effective with the placed ball and Cillian O’Connor threw his class around when introduced, adding two from play.

Jordon Flynn may well have added a goal, his shot cleared off the line in the 55th minute, and Matthew Ruane and Fionn McDonagh added two fine scores from play.

Armagh coach Kieran Donaghy appeared a little breathless himself afterwards, a little more lost for an explanation too: “Hard to put words on it, you’re a bit disappointed with some parts of the play, some of the skill errors and dropped balls,” said Donaghy, “but then you are just proud of the way the boys showed real determination and passion to keep going until the end.

“It looked like it was lost, three minutes to go we were down five points, frustrating to be in that position, we had skill errors that wouldn’t be like us but there was huge character and character building, the energy the subs that came off the bench, Jason Duffy, Niall Grimley, Callum Cumiskey cleared off the line, Ross McQuillan with a few vital interceptions late on.

“Great credit to them to bring that energy, that’s what you are looking for coming into a game like that, so yes it’s quite hard to put into words but proud of the group the way they kept going even when they weren’t functioning at their best.”

McStay had no complaints about any softness of Armagh’s equalising free, preferring to praise the effort of his team in the second half after trailing at the break. Three gems from play via Grugan, Conor Turbitt and Andrew Murnin pressed Armagh four clear, 0-8 to 0-4.

“We were coming into it, looking for a little bit more cut.. Maybe a couple of decisions coming down the straight, we could have punched points instead of going for the jugular thing,

“And we felt we were pushed off the break a little bit, legitimately pushed off the break, because they were a bit hungrier. We don’t want that for our team, we should be every bit as hungry, and in the second half we were.

“And in those clutch decisions, a bit of calmness to kick it better, and that will come, Kerry up next, Tyrone, away to Roscommon. So nothing simple around here.”

ARMAGH: E Rafferty; A McKay, A Forker, R Finn; P Burns, B McCabridge, J Og Burns; C Mackin, S Campbell; J Hall, R McGrugan (0-4, two frees), T Kelly (0-1); R O’Neill (capt) (0-6, four frees, one 45), A Murnin (0-3), C Turbitt (0-3). Subs: N Grimley for Finn (half time), C Cumiskey for Mackin, J Duffy for Hall (both 49 mins), R McQuillan for Kelly (61 Mins).

MAYO: C Reape (0-1, a free); D McBrien, R Brickenden, J Coyne; S Coen (capt), C Loftus, E Hession; M Ruane (0-1), F McDonagh (0-1); J Carney, B Tuohy, J Flynn (0-2); A O’Shea (0-2, one mark), J Carr (0-1), R O’Donoghue (0-7, six frees). Subs: C O’Connor (0-2) for Carney (47 mins), E McLoughlin for McDonagh (49 mins), D McHale for Tuohy (55 mins), C McStay for Carr (62 mins, inj), D McHugh for O’Shea (72 mins)

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics