Horan's battling Mayo men escape to victory
ARMAGH gave favourites Mayo one hell of a fright on Saturday night in Castlebar but there has been huge progress from the Orchard County this season in terms of competitiveness and style of play.
There is certainly a bright future for this young team under manager Kieran McGeeney, if he stays on at the helm, and they must trust the attacking brand of football they brought to this year's competitions.
They are by no means the finished article and have plenty to be working on before the football begins again in 2020.
I think they can were rash at times in the tackle but this is a very young team and one could make an excuse for them as they tried to pressure their opponents at every given opportunity.
The Mayo players will have awoken yesterday morning with plenty of aches and pains and they will be relieved that they got through this game and now are just one game away from the Super 8s.
This was a very strange game for them in many ways - having to deal with some high profile departures before half-time and some top players not allowed to perform the way they would have liked so you have to give credit to them for finding a way to victory.
You can say what you want about these Mayo players but the one thing they always give you is 100 per cent effort to the very end. Lesser teams would have lost this game but for Mayo it was a game that they daren't lose. It just wasn't going to happen.
The game itself started at breakneck pace with both teams going at it in an attacking sense and it was Armagh who grabbed an important early score. It was a score out of the Kerry hand-passing handbook with Rian O'Neill on the end of a great move.
That put a goal between the teams but back came Mayo with a goal of their own to level the scores with Andy Moran squaring a pass to Fionn McDonagh who shot low to the net. Game well and truly on.
The rest of the half was even enough but then James Horan called Andy Moran ashore and within a minute of that substitution Lee Keegan had to leave the field with what looked like a serious ankle injury.
At that stage Armagh led by a point despite playing against a strong breeze but it was typical of Mayo to kick the last two points of the half to go in with a good injection of confidence.
They would have led by more but on too many occasions the wrong decision to shoot instead of keeping the ball alive and work it into a better position. The three half-backs Keegan, Colm Boyle and Paddy Durcan were all guilty of poor misses and this is an area of their game that is letting them down week in, week out.
Armagh would have been quietly confident as they ran out onto the pitch for the second half and when the extremely accurate Jamie Clarke levelled the scores early in the half an upset looked on the cards.
Clarke kicked another to put his team ahead but back came Mayo with Kevin Mcloughlin and a brave block from Darren Coen to put Mayo back in front.
Then came the crucial score of the game. Kevin McLoughlin found a gap in the Armagh defence and after a lengthy solo run managed to find the net with his weaker right foot.
That score with about fifteen minutes left to play pushed them five points clear and they looked in control. However, they shot themselves in the foot while in possession on three separate occasions which gifted Armagh scores when the message should have been to control the ball.
In the end the clock ran out for Armagh after a brave effort. There is great young talent in the team and they play the game the way it should be played. I am looking forward to see how they progress over the next few campaigns.
The other three qualifying games saw good wins for Clare, Laois and Tyrone who had an easy victory in Newbridge. The scoreline didn't really reflect the game but Tyrone are back on a run of victories and will now be favourites to make the last eight.
It has also been another good season for the Clare footballers who are still going while their hurling brothers have hung up their hurleys for this season. Clare have some excellent footballers and are very well managed by Colm Collins.
They are now one win from getting into the Super 8s and that would be a massive boost for football in the county. I would give them a fighting chance of achieving this goal but they must attack the next game like their lives depended on it and in doing that they will have no regrets.