By emphatically lowering the colors of a legendary Dublin side in this Allianz League opener at Croke Park, Armagh has set itself a monumental challenge going forward.
To make the transition from January wonders to summer kingpins will be a long and no doubt rocky road to negotiate, but in sending this first message to the country at large, Kieran McGeeney’s men have plenty of proved they were serious.
Leading by nine points at the break and enjoying a similar advantage just 15 minutes from time, there was never any question of the nectar of victory coming out of the Orchard County men’s nostrils.
A sublime four-minute cameo spanning the 24th and 28th minutes which yielded what turned out to be golden goals from man of the match Rian O’Neill and Jason Duffy, complemented by riveting performances from Rory Grugan, Jarly Og Burns and Aidan Forker and a prodigious contribution from the bench from their substitutes, helped put Armagh on cloud nine.
But, ever realistic, manager McGeeney was keen to keep the result in context.
“I know people have criticized us defensively, but I think we struck the right balance on this occasion,” McGeeney said.
“There was a lot of talk about our Championship loss to Monaghan last year when we were two defenders short, but I think we showed in this game against Dublin that we can be very determined. We also pointed out that we have rhythm in the team.
“I thought we were unhappy to concede the Dublin goal but we still managed to close the game well. Ciaran McKeever did a great job with our defense and I think we saw the fruits of his labor on this occasion.
“I think the fact that we were maybe back to something like full strength, except for one or two players who were missing, was a big help. We may have gotten a bit tired towards the end after Ciaran Mackin’s injury, but luckily we managed to get over the line.
With Dublin limited to just five points in the first half, including one from a free kick, Armagh’s counter-attacking skills and appetite for the ball saw them collect 2-8 with the majestic O’Neill having a hand in most matches. mark while Cormac Costello, Ciaran Kilkenny and Brian Howard tried to keep the Dubs’ challenge clearly down.
The flame of hope only flickered too briefly in the third quarter for the home side when Dean Rock and Niall Scully did their best to contain Armagh by hacking the scores, but when Niall Grimley, Stefan Campbell and Gregory McCabe in particular have moved closer to the substitutes. Dublin’s resistance began to crumble.
Lorcan O’Dell’s scrambled goal in the 58th minute appeared to have thrown Dublin a shaky lifeline, but Armagh’s killer instinct was to surface as they closed the game clinically and effectively, their sights set. Already straying into this weekend’s showdown with All-Ireland champions Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds, a game which is already attracting huge interest even beyond the borders of the respective competing counties.
Armagh scorers: R O’Neill 1-4 (1f), J Duffy 1-1, R Grugan 0-4 (3f), A Nugent, C Mackin, S Campbell, T Kelly, G McCabe N Grimley 0-1 each.
Dublin scorers: L O’Dell 1-1, C Costello 0-3 (1f), D Rock 0-3 (3f), S Bugler 0-2, C Kilkenny 0-2 (1f), B Howard 0-1 , N Scully 0-1.