NFL Division One: Roscommon 1-12 Armagh 0-12
As the Roscommon players posed for photos on the pitch afterwards, it occurred that perhaps only they believed the picture would look this attractive after three rounds of the National Football League.
Top of the table in Division One. Tyrone, Galway and now Armagh all put to the sword. Who would have called it? The guttural roar that greeted the final whistle at Dr Hyde Park could have awoken souls in the graveyard out behind the ground. The competition’s yo-yo team are currently the most consistent outfit in Division One. Three from three.
“It’s a class feeling,” beamed Davy Burke afterwards. “Look at the people around and the buzz and the energy, you can’t help but notice the buzz. It’s class.”
In front of a crowd of approximately 8,000, Roscommon delivered a powerful second-half display full of energy, endeavour, purpose and belief. They also enjoyed their fair chunk of luck.
Not that there was anything lucky about the game’s pivotal score, Enda Smith remaining calm to slot home a 50th minute penalty that put Roscommon 1-10 to 0-9 ahead. Armagh, who led 0-8 to 0-7 at the interval, never got any closer than two points thereafter.
If the game was won on the scoreboard in that third quarter, it was won on the pitch deep in injury-time when Keith Doyle prevented Rian O’Neill from scoring what would have been an equalising goal by cynically pulling the Armagh forward down as he raced in on the Roscommon goal.
As he walked off the field having received a black card, Doyle was awarded appreciative claps from the home fans, the message clearly that they felt it was a crime worth committing.
“Fair play to Keith Doyle, he made a good decision at the right time, I think. Look, every other team is doing it so why don’t we?” said Burke.
And whatever side of the debate you fall down on, ultimately Armagh came away from that attack with just a pointed free and trailing by two with only seconds remaining.
Ben O’Carroll, who was a key player in the second half and won the match-changing penalty, re-extended Roscommon’s lead to three moments after the black card incident by popping over a nicely taken point. It was to be the last score of a frantic second half in which Roscommon outscored Armagh 1-5 to 0-4.
“I thought the first half the boys were really strong, really good, showed massive cohesion, strong running, playing for each other,” commented Armagh selector Kieran Donaghy.
“I think the start of the second half probably started sloppily for us, we missed a few chances and they came up and punished us. It’s Division One National League football and if you give a team momentum, especially at home, and you even saw it two weeks ago against Mayo, we were average enough that day but once we got the bit of momentum and the crowd gets behind you, it’s a hard one to stop.”
There was certainly something of that momentum swing in the second half for Roscommon as the game opened up. The first half had been a much cagier affair, both teams getting numbers behind the ball and tactically it produced a slower encounter.
Armagh, despite playing against the wind, were the more impressive team in that opening half and should have been more than the minimum ahead at the interval. Jason Duffy was causing Roscommon problems and Rian O’Neill’s angled runs were also opening the home side up.
At the other end, Roscommon’s attacks were too cumbersome and allowed Armagh to set up their defensive shape. However, Armagh lost their last four kickouts of the first half and a 0-6 to 0-3 lead was sliced to just one point by the break.
The kickout battle was central to the outcome of the game, as both goalkeepers tended to go long to a crowded middle third. Whichever team came out with the ball then had acres of space to hit and it was from one of those attacks, when Doyle won the restart, that O’Carroll was sent through on goal and Barry McCambridge dragged him down to concede the penalty.
Armagh had several goal-chances throughout the game but failed to take any, while Ethan Rafferty made a good stop from O’Carroll in injury-time.
Roscommon are not yet certain of their top-flight status for next year, but it would take quite the collapse and series of results for them to end up falling through the trapdoor now.
“It’s a brilliant position to be in, a top class position to be in,” admitted Burke. “We can probably look forward a bit more now.”
Jarlath Burns, the GAA president-elect, was in Dr Hyde Park to watch his son play this Division One game. He was even applauded to his seat in the stand beforehand.
But at the final whistle, the standing ovation was reserved for the players in primrose and blue. On what as a proud weekend for Armagh, this was very much Roscommon’s day.
ROSCOMMON: Conor Carroll; Conor Hussey, Conor Daly (0-2), David Murray; Robbie Dolan (0-1), Brian Stack, Niall Daly; Dylan Ruane, Enda Smith (1-1, goal from penalty), Ciarán Lennon (0-1); Diarmuid Murtagh (0-3, two frees), Ben O’Carroll (0-2), Ciarán Murtagh (0-1, one free). Subs: Colin Walsh for Murray (ht); Richard Hughes for Hussey (47 mins); Daire Cregg (0-1) for D Murtagh (54 mins); Conor Cox for C Murtagh (65 mins); Donie Smith for Lennon (75 mins).
ARMAGH: Ethan Rafferty; Aaron McKay, Paddy Burns, Aidan Forker; Conor O’Neill, Barry McCambridge (0-1), Jarlath Óg Burns; Ciaran Mackin, Stefan Campbell; Tiernan Kelly, Rory Grugan (0-2, two frees), Jemar Hall; Jason Duffy (0-4), Andrew Murnin (0-1), Rian O’Neill (0-4, two 45s); Conor Turbitt for Mackin (ht); Callum Cumiskey for Kelly (56 mins); Ross McQuillan for C O’Neill (63 mins); Justin Kieran for Hall (63 mins); Niall Grimley for Duffy (69 mins).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)