My poor heart.
Well, we won and this gets us into the Monday morning hat once again, where we’ll be drawn against one of Cavan, Cork, Galway or Meath in next weekend’s Round 4 of the qualifiers. But, boy, did we make hard work of it, collapsing over the line at the finish to win by a single point.
And now for the bad news, though how bad we don’t yet know. Our horrendous injury run this year was further compounded shortly before half-time this evening when Lee Keegan went down and limped, in what looked like considerable pain, from the field. The extent of the injury – that appears to be ankle related – hasn’t yet been confirmed but it didn’t look good.
To make matters worse, Jason Doherty hobbled off near the end with what also seemed to be an ankle problem. Again, there’s no confirmation as yet about how he is and whether or not he’ll be available the next day.
Under James Horan we don’t usually go for wholesale changes from the team we name in advance but this evening was an exception. Armagh fielded the team they’d named but we made four changes. Colm Boyle, Ciaran Treacy, Jason Doherty and Darren Coen all started in place of Michael Plunkett, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin and Fergal Boland respectively.
We got the evening’s opening score, with Conor Loftus banging a free high over the bar after Andy Moran had been fouled. But they quickly hit back with Grugan popping it over at the other end.
In their next attack, though, Armagh carved us open with alarming ease. Jamie Clarke slipped the cover and lifted the ball in for Rian O’Neill to palm to the net.
We responded perfectly, however, with Fionn McDonagh lashing the ball to the net. It was a move that saw Andy initially played in and although he fumbled the ball he recovered well and fed the young Westport man who finished emphatically.
Armagh hit back, an O’Neill free and an effort from play from Grugan putting them two ahead. But we again replied in kind, a second free by Conor – which was brought up after some messing by Armagh – and a real trademark belter from Fionn pulling us level again.
Riann O’Neill was very prominent in these opening exchanges, with Brendan Harrison labouring to keep tabs on him. A trip on him by Brendan yielded a free from which Jamie Clarke pointed. Lee Keegan then trotted over to mark the Armagh full-forward.
A swift downfield move, with Keith Higgins delivering a great, long handpass into Darren Coen, resulted in our next score, the Hollymount/Carramore man swinging in over. But they reclaimed the lead soon after, Campbell banging it over.
We kicked three bad wides in succession as we failed to get back on terms. Then came our first switch, with Kevin McLoughlin coming on for Andy Moran. We wouldn’t have been contemplating a second change after that but were forced into it, when Lee Keegan collapsed to the turf and was forced to go off. Stephen Coen came on for the luckless Westport player.
This latest injury setback appeared to goad the lads into action. Jason Doherty drilled over a great score from distance and Paddy Durcan followed it up with another soon after, edging us back in front. We took that one-point lead into the break.
Two Jamie Clarke points – the first a free, the second a wonder score off his left – put the Orchard County back in front on the resumption. They had a chance to extend their lead but Campbell booted it wide. And then a misty rain began to fall, making the underfoot conditions greasy and more than a little tricky.
Kevin McLoughlin gathered the ball that Darren Coen had threaded through to him from a free and he belted it over. Then Darren, off his left, knocked a beauty over to level it up again.
The sun came out, illuminating brightly the verdant playing surface. We looked like we were seeing the light too, with Stephen Coen feeding his namesake, Darren firing over another great score.
Niall Grimley, from a long way, out, took aim and landed a lovely point to the delight of the large Armagh following but a bigger roar reverberated around MacHale Park as Cillian O’Connor made his long-awaited reappearance, replacing Conor Loftus.
Donal Vaughan barrelled forward and scooped the ball over the bar with his left. Then Kevin McLoughlin took possession at speed out the field and hit for goal, only one thing on his mind. His shot was one of precision rather than power, the net shook and we were now firmly in control of this contest.
Jason Doherty’s injury occurred then, Fergal Boland replacing him. But we kept pouring forward, Darren Coen shooting from an outrageous angle to stretch our lead to five.
We were now in full control and all we had to do was see out the win in calm and measured fashion. But, of course, that’s not what we do and so back at us came Armagh as we allowed a comfortable win to slip from our grasp.
Jamie Clarke nearly goaled but David Clarke got enough on what was a weak enough effort to avert the danger. But Clarke fired over soon after to cut the gap back to four.
We coughed up another goal chance. This time David Clarke was left defenceless but forced Grugan wide as he went to round him. The Armagh man couldn’t keep his shot down and so the ball flew over the bar rather than into the unguarded net.
Two points by Campbell brought this contest to boiling point. Five minutes to go, we were now just a point up and flailing badly. Armagh sensed victory then, for sure.
But we steadied it. We won a free 50 yards out on the touchline but then Shields idiotically hauled down Kevin McLoughlin in front of the posts thirty yards out and the free was moved up. It was as close to a gimme as you’ll get and Cillian marked his return by thumping it over.
Time was almost up when Kevin McLoughlin was dragged down and Cillian duly obliged a second time. Surely we’d now see it out?
Those four minutes of injury time seemed to last an eternity. We got caught in possession at the back, we seemed unable to work the ball any distance up the field and, once again, Armagh sensed the mounting panic in our rearguard.
They got two points, one a free, in injury time but then, having won a free from a restart thumped long, Grimley played a give and go and then let fly from well over fifty yards out. The ball sailed wide and the final whistle sounded.
We’d done it, but only just and after a performance that became more chaotic and panic-ridden the longer it went on. One more slip from us near the end and this would have been a story of our defeat. We dodged the bullet by millimetres at MacHale Park tonight.
But dodge it we did, even if the blows continue to rein down on us on the injury front. Still, we got the win we needed and we’re in the hat on Monday morning. On we go, onto whatever and whoever we’re fated to meet in Round 4 next weekend.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Mikey Murray, Aidan O’Shea; Fionn McDonagh (1-1), Conor Loftus (0-2, free), Ciaran Treacy; Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran, Darren Coen (0-4). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin (1-1) for Moran, Stephen Coen for Keegan, Donal Vaughan (0-1) for Murray, Cillian O’Connor (0-2, frees) for Loftus, Fergal Boland for Doherty, Evan Regan for Treacy.
Who was our MOTM against Armagh? Pick your top three performers
- Darren Coen (34%, 682 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (21%, 432 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (15%, 297 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (9%, 188 Votes)
- David Clarke (6%, 118 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (5%, 109 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (2%, 36 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (2%, 31 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 23 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 17 Votes)
- Mikey Murray (0%, 10 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (0%, 10 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 10 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (0%, 8 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 8 Votes)
- Ciaran Treacy (0%, 8 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 7 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 6 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 6 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 5 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,148