Armagh will return to the senior ranks on the heels of a victory in the intermediate final on Sunday when they used a balanced attack -- eight players scored -- and brilliant defensive performances from Mike Hallassy and Kieran McCooey to defeat a determined but over-matched -- at least in the first 15 minutes – St. Barnabas side.
Armagh burst out of the gate and were ahead 1-3 to 0-1 with 13 minutes gone. Ant it was a lead that was never reduced below four the rest of the way.
The goal that the Saints needed so badly never looked like arriving despite the best efforts of Shane Hogan, Steve Gomez and the outstanding Liam Deane.
After the 1-3 opening Armagh should have had much more as they had three wides and dropped two balls into the keeper’s hands. Peter Hatzer snatched the goal with seven minutes gone when he took a delivery from Gerry Hamill and blasted to the net.
The Saints started to claw their way back, with Deane finally opening their allotment on the 10 minute mark. Their one golden opportunity for a net shaker came just past the quarter mark when Mike Travers and Sean Reilly linked up, but Donal Hearty made a brave save to keep the lead at five.
Richie Morgan fired a free over minutes later. He was fouled himself on the twenty meter line, but it preceded a Saints’ purple patch. They led the scoring three points to two in the last eight minutes, with Reilly with a free from the sod, and then Deane from the right side and from the hands hitting the mark.
Johnny McGeeney and Morgan in the dying moments had the Armagh scores but Deane, Hogan and Gomez, who was getting to numerous McArdle kickouts, were now taking it to Armagh.
They still trailed 1-6 to 0-4 at the short whistle with the game also getting tough in the trenches, although no yellows were awarded for a couple of skirmishes.
There was another splash of scores to open the second half, with both sides adding three in the first nine minutes as the shooting boots started to take hold. Travers and two from Reilly moved the Barnabas side. The first Reilly score was a gem from distance, while McGeeney with a terrific long distance drive, Sean McKeown and Hamill replied for the winners. The Hamill score was at the end of a full field six player passing move that showed their undoubted talents.
Brian Dennehy added a further Saints score. He was introduced at the break. He robbed a defender with tenacious play, but two balls that dropped into the square were cleared by the Armagh defense. Hearty did very well on both occasions under pressure.
With the lead at 1-9 to 0-8, the winners finally broke the game open. Points from Hamill -- he had an excellent hour not only in front of goal but as a link man -- sub Ryan Stokes and three from Barry Torsney gave them a substantial cushion and let Derek McKenna breathe a little calmer on the line.
They also stopped a couple of Barnabas breaks granted after a couple of players escaped cards for over robust challenges. Deane pointed the resulting frees and also had a brilliant point from play. But Malone, McGeeney with a fisted effort and Torsney with his fourth closed out the scoring and victory was complete.
The winners had a number of stars including keeper Hearty, who made the necessary stops when the game was still on the line. McCooey, the excellent Hallassey, and Sean McKeown marshalled the back; the big center back was very calm on the ball while the McGeeney brothers won the middle of the park.
Stephen Malone was strong on the 40. He covered a lot of ground between the 45s, with Hamill and Torsney who had an outstanding closing 20 the leading attackers.
For the Saints, Kevin McArdle couldn’t be faulted and he was brave on a number of Armagh attacks. Michael McBrien and Steve Gomez who had a very good encounter particularly on the kick outs led at the back. James Mullin also excelled when introduced.
Shane Hogan battled hard throughout, with Travers, Wynne and Dennehy also fighting hard. Travers had to move far from goal in the second half which negated his scoring threat. Liam Deane was outstanding. His six points were all important and none were easy.
Armagh: 1 Donal Hearty, 2 Darren McDermott, 3 Patsy Martin, 4 Kieran McCooey, 5 Sean McKeown (0-1), 6 Michael Hallassey, 7 Daniel Nugent, 8 Kevin McGeeney (0-1), 9 Johnny McGeeney (0-3), 10 Chris Neville, 11 Stephen Malone (0-1), 12 Gerry Hamill (0-3), 13 Richie Morgan (0-3), 14 Barry Tornsey (0-4), 15 Peter Hatzer (1-0). Subs: Ryan Stokes (0-1), Aiden Hearty.
St. Barnabas: 1 Kevin McArdle, 2 Shane Dennehy, 3 Frankie McDermott, 4 Michael McBrien, 5 Tommy Kiernan, 6 Conor Hogan, 7 Steve Gomez, 9 Sean Reilly (0-3), 10 Luke Barrett, 11 Adrian Wynne, 12 Liam Deane (0-6), 13 Shane Flanagan, 14 Michael Travers (0-1), 15 Tom McGovern. Subs: James Mullen, Eddie Hogan, Brian Dennehy (0-1), Dion Norney.
Referee: Martin O’Connor.
Man of the match: Michael Hallassey (Armagh).