By Brendan McTaggart
Antrim 1-10 Armagh 2-21
Sunday January 6
On their second outing in the 2019 Dr McKenna Cup, Antrim managed to score the first and last scores of the 70 plus minutes. For most of what happened in between though, there was a huge gulf between Lenny Harbinson’s men and Armagh. A 14 point defeat that was every bit as convincing as it sounds.
Kieran McGeeney’s men have become a slick, well oiled machine and on Sunday they took apart Antrim at will. High press, tenacious tackling and an astute awareness all over the pitch. A footballing savvy performance against an Antrim team who looked light years behind the Orchard County. A harsh assessment maybe, considering Harbinson hasn’t tried to hide the fact he is using the competition to look at his squad. Eight changes were made from the Monaghan match with further changes planned for Wednesday night’s match against St Mary’s at Woodlands.
Two Paddy McBride points is all Antrim managed for their efforts in the opening 35 minutes and by the 19th minute the writing was on the wall for the Saffrons. Armagh had rattled 2-8 without reply with Harbinson’s side struggling all over. Armagh were dominant forcing mistakes and punishing the many errors Antrim were yielding.
The attacking movement and strong direct running of Armagh was always going to be difficult to contain. Stefan Campbell and Jack Grugan were proving to be a handful on the inside forward line while Jamie Clarke showed glimpses of his brilliant talent. Antrim’s cause wasn’t helped with Pat Branagan being forced off with a head injury mid way through the first half along with Andrew Sweeney but the Saffron defence was being torn apart at an alarming rate. McGeeney’s men were ruthless in the opening quarter and Antrim had no answer.
The Saffrons improved in the second half with Niall Delargy coming off the bench to score two points and Eoghan McCabe finishing a superb move for a goal with the last kick of the game. They won the second 35 minutes 1-8 to 0-9 but to highlight that stat would merely be a silver coating on a disappointing afternoon. Armagh were in cruise control in the second half and the Saffrons manager didn’t pull any punches when we spoke with him after the final whistle: “The first half was pretty poor, there’s no denying that. That was the foundation for Armagh today, going in at half time with a big lead and rightly so. They played some very good football and we were found wanting and the players themselves know that. The disappointing aspect is the players themselves know that and they are working really hard and we know they’re working hard.”
The two Armagh majors came within two minutes of each other. The first from Ryan McShane as he capitalised on a stray kick out from Colm Fleming before having the presence of mind to lob the Rossa man with his finish. The second from the penalty spot, Jamie Clarke finding the bottom corner with an excellent finish. Clarke’s penalty the only score coming from placed ball out of Armagh’s 2-12 in the first half. Whatever confidence Antrim had coming into the match was sapped out of them after the quickfire double, Harbinson added: “That old adage, goals win games. We conceded two in a couple of minutes and it’s a massive task.
“The only thing I can take from this, it’s reinforced in my own mind that some of the players are stepping up and some of the players we’ll have to review.”
With the new rules being trialled, the game was 76 seconds old when Antrim were penalised for a fourth hand pass and the rule seemed to hinder Herbinson’s men in the first half. They had their fair share of possession but Armagh manager McGeeney admitted after the match they targeted the man who received the third hand pass. Put the pressure on there and limit options. From there they countered and got forward in droves. Herbinson said: “There are ways and means of breaking defences down. Armagh showed desire to send men forward and break the lines and we were just a bit slow in doing that.”
Wednesday night’s match against St Mary’s will end the McKenna Cup for the Saffrons in 2019 with the University gaining an impressive draw against Monaghan on Sunday. Herbinson told of his plans for the match while being fully aware of the magnitude of the task he faces: “We’ll make more changes on Wednesday night and have a final look at the panel. There’s three or four boys playing last week but are carrying an injury. It would have been nice to get them a run out today. The likes of Ruairi McCann and Ryan Murray but we are limited. We know where we’re at and we don’t kid ourselves in terms of where we are at in Division Four and what we need to do.”