Armagh recorded an incredible 8-13 to 0-10 win over Leitrim in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada , pulverising the hosts who were unable to compete with their strong powerful running and incisive attacking play.
The Armagh full forward line of Jamie Clarke (2-3), Tony Kernan (1-5) and Eugene McVerry (3-0) combined to wreak havoc, though Paul Grimley will be acutely aware that his team will never meet with so little resistance in the championship ever again.
Leitrim scored just two points from play in the 70 minutes and the game was well over by half time, when Armagh led by 4-8 to 0-4.
Leitrim were in huge trouble right from the start of this contest as they had no answer to Armagh’s pace and inventiveness in the forward line, while their own pedestrian attacking style gave the Ulster county ample time to funnel back and smother the home side.
The loss of several Leitrim key players to injury was conspicuous and that damage was compounded when wing forward Paddy McGowan was forced off after just five minutes of play, forcing the Leitrim management to dig further into their reserves.
A free from Tony Kernan was the only score in the first nine minutes, but after Jamie Clarke doubled that lead with a neat left footed point, the first of four first half goals put the visitors well into the ascendancy.
Like so many Armagh scores this evening, a Leitrim turnover was central to the event. Barry Prior was caught in possession coming out of defence and a quick free from James Lavery found Kevin Dyas in space down the right wing. Dyas picked out McVerry with a wonderful crossfield pass and the Mullaghbawn player did the rest with a neat left footed finish.
Leitrim finally got on the scoreboard after eighteen minutes of play through a Kevin Conlon free, but it was only a brief respite as Armagh soon had their second goal of the game.
Jamie Clarke, so often the main finisher in this Armagh forward line, turned provider on this occasion as he drove through some intense tackling and picked out his club colleague Tony Kernan with a fine pass. Kernan drove the ball low inside the near post to give the Orchard County a 2-3 to 0-1 lead.
After the two sides traded points the third goal of the match all but resolved the contest and again, Leitrim were the architects of their own demise. Some slow and ineffective handpassing across the midfield sector eventually broke down and allowed Mark Shields to pick out Kevin Dyas in acres of space on the 65m line.
With just two defenders between Dyas and the goal, both marking their own men, clear open country presented itself to the Armagh centre forward. Dyas sauntered down the middle and picked his spot from the edge of the penalty area.
The goals continued to flow either side of the half time break with Eugene McVerry striking his second to make it 4-8 to 0-4 at the interval. Aaron Kernan set up the corner forward with a sharp run through the middle, though again the absence of any real tackling from the Leitrim backline was stark.
McVerry didn’t have long to wait for his hat-trick either as a great team move ended in Armagh’s fifth goal just six minutes after the restart. Kieran Toner, Ciaran McKeever and Caolan Rafferty all linked up down the right before feeding the corner forward, who slotted a cool finish underneath the keeper.
Mark Shields was next to hit the net for the visitors, placing the ball home after he ran thirty yards unchecked from the left wing forward position to make it 6-9 to 0-5.
A surprisingly dry spell of scoring followed, but two more goals in three minutes on the hour mark raised more cheers from the visiting crowd, in no small part because both came from the boot of talisman Jamie Clarke.
His first was a low finish after he slipped in along the 14m line from the right wing, while his second was a simpler effort, taking advantage of a long delivery from James Lavery.
Late points from Darren Sweeney and Ray Cox got Leitrim into double figures and also ensured that it wasn’t just Kevin Conlon who scored for the Connacht county, but they never looked like registering a goal of their own as Armagh continued to defend with discipline right up to the end.
Leitrim: C McCrann; F McMorrow, C Egan, D Beck; S McWeeney, G Reynolds, B Prior; D Sweeney (0-01), B Brennan; P McGowan, J Glancy, P Brennan; K Conlon (0-08, 0-07 frees), R Lowe, A Croal.
Subs: R Gallagher for McGowan (5 mins), R Cox (0-01, free) for Croal (HT), C Clarke for Beck (45), G Reynolds for McMorrow (55)
Armagh: P McEvoy; J Morgan, B Donaghy, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-04, frees), C McKeever, M Shields (1-00); S Harold (0-01), J Lavery; C Rafferty, K Dyas (1-00), E Rafferty; J Clarke (2-03), T Kernan (1-05, 0-03 frees, 0-01 ‘45), E McVerry (3-00)
Subs: Stefan Campbell for E Rafferty (27 mins), C O’Hanlon for McVerry (48), F Moriarty for Shields (53), A Forker for C Rafferty (55), S Forker for Clarke (63)
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)