Matthew Tierney seizes on Ethan Rafferty error to complete Galway fightback

Galway are within touching distance of reaching their first Division 1 Allianz League final in five seasons. At worst, they are assured of Division 1 football next season after this two-point win at the Box-It Athletic Grounds last night.

A goal in injury time from Matthew Tierney after a mistake from Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty proved the winning score of a game which only came to life in the dying minutes.

Armagh led by four points at the break — 1-4 to 0-3 — after Rafferty had scored a long-range goal for the home side, but they only managed 0-2 in the second half as Galway showed admirable courage and determination after the break when they had the wind and, ultimately, their resilience was handsomely rewarded.

The outcome of their final league fixture at home against All-Ireland champions Kerry will determine whether they make the decider on Sunday week. But as far as Pádraic Joyce and his squad is concerned, it is mission accomplished in this season’s spring campaign.

Things are not nearly as straightforward for Armagh, however. They are stuck on five points and, depending on other results, may need to secure something from next Sunday’s visit to Omagh in order to secure their Division 1 status for a fourth consecutive season.

Shane Walsh started his first match for Galway since last July’s All-Ireland final, while Tiernan Kelly, who served a six-month ban after an eye-gouging incident in their epic quarter-final clash between the sides last year, made the starting XV. It was the first league meeting between the teams since 2016, which ended in a draw.​

Barry McCambridge, who did an excellent marking job on David Clifford a couple of weeks ago, was assigned to mark Walsh, but the visitors found it very difficult to make headway against the massed Armagh defence.

Armagh, meanwhile, were content to sit deep and try and break at speed. But the tactic led to a very sterile first quarter, with Stefan Campbell’s point after 50 seconds the only score until Callum Comiskey’s 20th-minute effort.

In between, the only real excitement came when Matthew Tierney was booked for a late challenge on Rafferty.

The home side landed two shots short into the hands of Conor Gleeson — but, in truth, this was modern football at its worst, with Tierney missing a 45 and a free from 30 metres.

Finally, after 21 minutes, the fans had something to cheer about when a speculative Hail Mary from Rafferty eluded everyone and ended up in the Galway net. There was a suspicion of a ‘square ball’, but after consulting with his umpires, David Gough allowed the score.

Galway opened their account with a Johnny Heaney point in the 26th minute, and Cathal Sweeney added another less than 90 seconds later to get the visitors back into the game. They were having a lot of success turning Armagh deep in their own half, and they began to transition the ball faster.

Jarly Óg Burns provided the assist for Rian O’Neill to hit Armagh’s third point five minutes before the break as the floodlights were turned on and the rained poured down.

Galway had a great chance of a goal just before the break when a cross from a subdued Shane Walsh was hit first time by Johnny Heaney, but Ciaran Mackin, who had scored Armagh’s fourth point shortly before, blocked his effort at the expense of a 45. This was upgraded to a close-in free, presumably for dissent, and Walsh pointed to leave Armagh 1-4 to 0-3 ahead at the break having played with a strong wind.

Rory Grugan (free) and Johnny Heaney exchanged early second-half points as Andrew Murnin’s fetching in the middle of the field caught the eye.

But a converted mark from Galway substitute Tomo Culhane followed immediately by a Paul Conroy point — both after cheap turnovers — left two points between the sides with 25 minutes left.

Armagh’s creativity up front completed deserted them, and a miss from Stefan Campbell after a rapid counter-attack in the 57th minute emphasised their poverty up front.

It was down to a one-point game with eight minutes left when Shane Walsh pointed a straight-forward free, won brilliantly by Paul Conroy. Galway were now dominating and they deservedly levelled things up when Culhane converted his second mark after a pinpoint pass from Rob Finnerty.

Galway struck for the winning score three minutes into what transpired to be nine minutes of injury time.

First-half hero Rafferty was responsible as he failed to cut out a speculative lob from Shane Walsh, and Tierney took full advantage to punch the ball to the empty net.

Armagh substitute Aidan Nugent hit the side’s first point from play immediately afterwards, and the home side nearly stole it at the death but Conor Gleeson brilliant saved Jarly Óg Burns’ shot.​

Galway manager Padraic Joyce said their ambition at the start of the season was to contest and win the league and nothing has changed.

“Galway haven’t won a league title since my uncle (Billy Joyce) was playing back in 1981. I have three losing medals, some of the lads have won one losing medal. The teams that are successful and win All-Irelands pick up league titles along the way.

“It is a national title. We know we’re still not there (in the final). We have a long way to go. But our aim at the start of the year was to get to the final and win it and this hasn’t changed.”

Joyce said he was very happy with the win. “It is brilliant to come out of Armagh with two points.”

He hailed the character his players showed.

“There was a strong breeze, and we lost the toss and went in four down at half time. I wasn’t too worried because I knew we would get better. You might say the goal was lucky, but Matty (Matthew Tierney) went in after missing a shot earlier. We held on comfortably enough in the end having been criticised in the past for not closing out games.”

Armagh coach Kieran Donaghy described the loss as ‘very tough.’ In their three matches against Connacht sides, they only secured one point (against Mayo). Second half fade out against both Roscommon and Galway cost them dearly.

“We must look at it as an entire group. Our shot percentage (two out of eight) was poor in the second half. Our skills and shot execution were poor overall.

“It is something we will have to focus on. Our second half performance was not good enough. It is very disappointing,” he said.

Scorers: Galway: M Tierney 1-0; J Heaney, S Walsh (2f), T Culhane (1m) 0-2 each; C Sweeney, P Conroy 0-1 each.

Armagh: E Rafferty 1-0; C McCumiskey, S Campbell, R O’Neill, C Mackin, R Grugan (1f), A Nugent 0-1 each.

Galway: C Gleeson 7; J McGrath 7, S Fitzgerald 7; S Kelly 7; C Hernon 7; J Daly 8, D McHugh 7, P Conroy 8, M Tierney 8 J Maher 8, J Heaney 7, Paul Kelly 5; C Sweeney 6, Patrick Kelly 5, S Walsh 7. Subs: R Finnerty 6 for Patrick Kelly ht; T Culhane 7 for Paul Kelly 44; D O’Flaherty for Maher 68; B Mannion for Hernon 70; R Monaghan for Daly 70 + 7.

Armagh: E Rafferty 6; B McCambridge 7 , A McKay 6, A Forker 6; C Mackin 7, G McCabe 5, J Og Burns 7; S Campbell 6, T Kelly 7; C McCumiskey 6, R Grugan 7, J McElroy 7 ; R O’Neill 5, A Murnin 7, J Duffy 6 Subs: J Hall 5 for McCumiskey 30; S Sheridan 4 for Kelly ht; C Turbitt 5 for McCabe 48; R McQuillan 5 for McKay 47; N Grimley 5 for Sheridan 59; A Nugent for O’Neill 65.

Referee: David Gough (Meath).

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