Allianz National Football League, Division One: Tyrone 0-18 Armagh 0-16
Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney reflected on a campaign of fine margins as his side fell through the relegation trapdoor and into Division Two.
A two points defeat to Ulster rivals Tyrone at Healy Park sealed the fate of the Orchard men, following a string of narrow losses.
“It’s hard to take any solace today,” said McGeeney.
“You know we probably could have and should have won most games we played in and it’s very disappointing that we didn’t but that’s sport at the top level – there are fine margins and you to be no the right side of them.”
And the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain accepted responsibility for the loss to top tier status.
“You just have to learn to live with those things because it’s part-and-parcel of sport, you’re going to have a lot of people with opinions and, rightly or wrongly, they’re entitled to them when they watch the game.
“It’s tough on the boys today but the buck stops with me. I make the calls and the choices and there’s days like this you wish you could do more for them, you want to protect them and make sure that they’re seen in the right light. Unfortunately I let them down today.”
A thrilling encounter was level on 11 occasions, before the Red Hands eased away in the closing stages to seal a win that copper-fastened their survival and gave them a fourth-place finish.
Conor Turbitt came in to replace the injured Rian O’Neill and hit three early scores to give the visitors a positive start.
But Darren McCurry, Peter Harte and Conn Kilpatrick hit the target at the other end, with McCurry shooting the home side ahead for the first time in the 22nd minute.
They had a goal chance when Darragh Canavan broke through just before the break, but Ethan Rafferty produced a brilliant save, before McCurry edged Tyrone into a 0-8 to 0-7 interval lead.
Full back Ronan McNamee, making his first appearance of the season, weighed in with a couple of second half scores as Tyrone pushed up on a retreating Orchard side, but Armagh were always dangerous on the breakaway, with Rory Grugan a creative influence and Stefan Campbell firing over three superb points.
They regained the lead 12 minutes from the end through Campbell, but McCurry brought his tally to seven and results elsewhere compounded the misery for Armagh.
Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher was pleased with the way his team turned the corner after losing three of their first four games.
“Our main objective was to stay in Division One,” he said.
“We put ourselves in a bad position with the start we had, and our backs were to the wall for the last three or four games.
“Thankfully the boys dug it out whenever it mattered, all credit to them for that.
“We were very slow to get off the mark, and suffered a few bad defeats, and we deservedly suffered those defeats, because while we played well in parts, we didn’t play well for long enough in them, and whenever we didn’t play well, we were really punished, we really suffered heavily with goals against us, and that’s what killed us.”
Tyrone: B Gallen; M McKernan, R McNamee (0-2), P Hampsey (0-1); C Quinn, F Burns, P Harte (0-3); B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick (0-2); C Meyler, K McGeary, J Oguz; D McCurry (0-7 (5f), M Donnelly (0-1), D Canavan (0-1).
Subs: M McGleenan (0-1) for Canavan (48), N Sludden for Harte (72)
Armagh: E Rafferty; B McCambridge, A McKay, A Forker (0-2); C Mackin, G McCabe, J Og Burns; S Campbell (0-3), N Grimley (0-1, m); C Cumiskey (0-1), R Grugan (0-2), J Hall (0-1); C Turbitt (0-5, 2f, 1m), A Murnin, J Duffy.
Subs: A Nugent for Murnin (24), T Kelly for Duffy (48), J Kieran (0-1) for Hall (62), C McConville for Cumiskey (70), S McPartlan for Turbitt (71)
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).