A stunning second-half display saw a resilient Armagh side come from four points down to beat pre-match favourites Kerry by 1-12 to 0-14 in a thrilling Bank of Ireland All-Ireland football final at Croke Park. If ever there was a game of two halves this was it, with The Kingdom completely dominating the opening 35 only for Armagh to overwhelm them with a powerful second-half display that turned with Oisin McConville's 55th minute goal.
The outcome most neutrals would have wanted looked but a distant dream at the break after Paidí Ó Sé's men took control with their incisive, pacey brand of football, and when McConville had a 34th minute penalty saved by Declan O'Keeffe, the signs looked ominous. However, it speaks volumes of the talent in this under-rated Armagh side that they restricted their opponents to just three points after the break, with midfielders Paul McGrane and John Toal prominent in their resurgence after gaining the upper hand over the formerly dominant Kerry duo Darragh Ó Sé and Donal Daly.
Armagh captain Kieran McGeeney, together with McConville, Ronan Clarke and Diarmuid Marsden in the forwards, also played significant roles in Armagh's transformation in the second-half, and despite a tense finale where both sides squandered scoreable chances, Joe Kernan's men held on for a deserved victory.
The early stages of the first-half were tight, with Steven McDonnell opening the scoring for The Orchard County with just two minutes on the clock. Mike Frank Russell replied for Kerry within a minute after linking well with Liam Hassett, but McDonnell and Clarke hit back to give Armagh a two-point cushion after five minutes.
Kerry, realising they were in a game, upped the tempo and were rewarded for their endeavour with points from Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan and Russell giving them the lead for the first time with quarter of an hour gone. 19-year-old Clarke, who acquitted himself superbly despite the close attentions of Seamus Moynihan, replied before Dara Ó Cinnéide (2), Aidan Fitzmaurice and Hassett gave Kerry a three point advantage with 24 minutes played.
John McEntee, who had to be replaced shortly afterwards with concussion, got one back for Armagh, who were losing the key midfield battle and watching Kerry capitalise on most of the loose ball. Brosnan, Ó Cinnéide and Darragh Ó Sé were thriving in the expansive arena and Russell stretched Kerry's lead to four points (0-09 to 0-05) after some assertive play from Brosnan.
Marsden, who looked out of sorts during a quiet opening half-hour, opened his account after escaping the attentions of Mark Ó Sé, but Ó Cinneide and Cooper made it a five point game with Armagh's hopes fading quickly. They were, however, given an opportunity to reduce the deficit when referee John Bannon pointed to the spot after McConville was bundled to the ground by three Kerry defenders inside the square just before the break.
McConville stepped up himself but watched in dismay as O'Keeffe dived to his right to turn away his well struck kick and maintain Kerry's advantage, although Marsden pointed in the dying seconds to leave Armagh trailing by four points (0-11 to 0-07) at the interval.
Kerry were kept waiting on the pitch for almost five minutes as Armagh manager Kernan delivered his half-time speech, and he must have been very wise with his choice of words as the Ulstermen returned for the second-half a different side. Marsden and O'Cinnéide traded scores early on and McConville reduced the deficit to three with a 35 metre free after 43 minutes.
Hassett and McConville again swapped points, the latter from the game's first 45 after McConville squandered a possible goalscoring chance, while O Cinnéide converted Kerry's first 45 after 54 minutes to make it 0-14 to 0-10. However, that was to be Kerry's last contribution to the scoreboard as Armagh gained the upperhand at midfield.
The turning point came on 55 minutes when McConville, anxious to put his penalty miss behind him, surged through the Kerry back-line, traded a one-two with McGrane, and showed admirable composure to slot the ball past O'Keeffe to put just one point between the sides.
Thereafter, there was only going to be one winner, and with the Kerry midfield lacking its earlier authority, Armagh completed the job with points from Clarke and McDonnell to ensure the Sam Maguire cup would be heading to The Orchard County for the first time after disappointments in the 1953 and 1977 finals.
Armagh:Brendan Tierney; Enda McNulty, Justin McNulty, Francie Bellew; Aidan O'Rourke, Kieran McGeeney, Andrew McCann; John Toal, Paul McGrane; Paddy McKeever, John McEntee (0-1), Oisin McConville (1-2); Stephen McDonnell (0-3), Ronan Clarke (0-3), Diarmuid Marsden (0-3). Subs: Barry O'Hagan, Tony McEntee
Kerry:Declan O'Keeffe; Mark O Se, Seamus Moynihan, Mike McCarthy; Tomas O Se, Eamonn Fitzmaurice (0-1), John Sheehan; Darragh O Se, Donal Daly; Sean O'Sullivan, Eoin Brosnan (0-1), Liam Hassett (0-2); Mike Frank Russell (0-3), Dara O Cinneide (0-5), Colin Cooper (0-2). Subs: Aodan MacGearailt, Tom O'Sullivan, Johnny Crowley, Barry O'Shea
Referee: John Bannon (Longford)
Filed by Shane Murray