Armagh make short work of Antrim as Ulster opener fails to ignite

Kieran McGeeney’s side were happy to get their season off to a winning start after a disappointing league campaign

Ulster SFC First Round: Armagh 0-20 Antrim 1-8

Encircled by a mini hoard of Armagh youngsters, Conor Turbitt was the new favourite for the keen autograph hunters in Box-It Athletic grounds. Even Antrim’s Joseph Finnegan felt a responsibility to break that circle of adornment when trudging off the field for a tap on the back followed by a handshake to the destroyer of his Ulster championship dreams.

That was how the game played out, regardless of the quick turnaround from the league and the Easter parade on the field, it was only championship in name, as the hosts comfortably won by nine. Armagh’s blunt edge in the relegation campaign was much talked about but the absence of Rian O’Neill wasn’t felt as Turbitt finished the day with eight points to his name. Tiernan Kelly, Jemar Hall and “Turbo” all missed significant chunks of the Division One season and that could be a reason for their downfall, but that hangover was nipped in the bud according to Armagh selector Kieran Donaghy.

“Geezer did a brilliant job in terms of rallying the troops,” Donaghy said afterwards. “It started in the changing room in Tyrone and we had a really good session on the Tuesday night and I felt that was the catalyst we needed as a group, focus on Antrim and be in the next round of the Championship.”

Hall and Kelly had the hosts eight points to the good in a facile opening 26 minutes. Armagh continually punished Antrim’s woeful turnover percentage. It was a tough watch for the neutral, Andy McEntee’s side were not so much blown away but unable to bridge the gap between physicality and efficiency in attack.


“We were slow to get going and weren’t taking the chances that were presented to us,” McEntee said afterwards. “At half-time, we counted 10 chances [missed] – four dropped short and six wides. You get half of those and it’s a different situation.”

“You have to give Armagh credit for that as they don’t allow you to. The pace they have and physicality they have probably told in the end. It mightn’t have been the best experience in the world, but it’s experience, so we just dust ourselves down and go again.”

Armagh unearthed Shane McPartlan for his championship debut and Cavan watchers will no doubt pencil down the midfielder’s ability to split the posts. Three in the second half, four in total, the newcomer knifed Antrim’s resolve after Conor Stewart raced through to score the game’s only goal.

Turbitt added to his tally to end the weeks of strife felt around the Orchard county camp. “It is probably slightly frustrating for the group because they know how hard Kieran McGeeney works for his team and what he has done in the last eight years,” Donaghy explained.

“It is the shortness of memory, I came up here in 2011 in a league game when Armagh were in Division One and two years later they were in Division Three. Kieran came up here when they were in Division Three and they were a long way off the shake up of the season.

“To bring them from there to where we were last season, going toe-to-toe with Galway, that’s a long road. Of course people want the best, but you have to realise where your team has come from and who got them there.”

ARMAGH: Ethan Rafferty (0-1, free); James Morgan, Aaron McKay, Aidan Forker; Ciarán Mackin (0-1), Greg McCabe, Barry McCambridge; Ben Crealey, Shane McPartlan (0-4); Stefan Campbell (0-1), Rory Grugan (0-3, one free), Jason Duffy; Jemar Hall (0-1), Conor Turbitt (0-8, three frees, one mark), Tiernan Kelly (0-1). Subs: Ross McQuillan for Morgan (50 mins), Stephen Sheridan for Crealey (53), Aidan Nugent for Hall (56), Cian McConville for Campbell (64), Ciaran Higgins for McCambridge (65).

ANTRIM: Michael Byrne; Eoghan McCabe (0-1), Peter Healy, James McAuley (0-1); Patrick McCormick, Joseph Finnegan, Marc Jordan; Conor Stewart (1-1), Kevin Small; Patrick McBride, Ruairí McCann (Creggan Kickhams) (0-1, free), Colm McLarnon; Pat Shivers (0-1), Ruairí McCann (St Mary’s, Aghagallon) (0-1), Ryan Murray (0-1, free). Subs: Patrick Finnegan for McLarnon (24 mins), Odhrán Eastwood (0-1) for Murray (46), Adam Loughran for McBride (46), Dominic McEnhill for Shivers (63), Jack Dowling (St Brigid’s) for Small (65), Small for McAuley (blood, 74).

Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo).