There will be a few sore bodies in Down and Armagh today following Sunday’s gruelling 90-minute thriller in Páirc Esler.
However, Andrew Murnin will be nursing aches and pains for a different reason following his match-winning 10-minute cameo that saw Armagh take the spoils on derby day and give Kieran McGeeney his first Ulster Championship win as a manager.
The St. Paul’s Lurgan man has not kicked a ball for Armagh in 2019 having undergone surgery shortly before Christmas and only returned to pitch sessions two weeks ago.
Murnin was a surprise inclusion on the match-day squad given his lack of activity but what a masterstroke it turned out to be from Kieran McGeeney and his management team.
Armagh assistant manager, Jim McCorry, remarked following a pulsating encounter between the Ulster rivals that there was “maybe 10 or 15 minutes in him”.
It turned out all Armagh needed from the Lurgan man was 10 minutes. Having thrown away a five-point lead in the final few minutes, then falling three-points behind in extra-time, bringing on a Murnin was the last roll of the dice as Armagh looked to go route one in the closing minutes.
The decision paid off dividends for the Orchard County.
The first ball that came his way, Murnin collected, turned on a sixpence and fired straight over the bar. It was arguably something that Armagh lacked all afternoon, despite the terrific performance of Rian O’Neill.
The second ball pumped into the St. Paul’s man was long, hopeful and could have gone anywhere, however, Murnin rose highest to flick the ball to the net. It may have been somewhat fortuitous, not that anybody in Armagh cares. It’s a goal that will be remembered for a long time.
Following the game, Down manager, Paddy Tally, reflected on the impact Murnin made and how his presence essentially won the game for Armagh.
“Andrew made a massive impact coming in. It’s strange when you look at it, he probably hadn’t kicked a ball all year for Armagh because of injury and he comes in and scores 1-1.
“He’s a quality player and I think at that stage to have a player like that come in was massive for them. It ultimately comes down to that but we probably knew Armagh had the ability to go very big inside.”
Jim McCorry admitted afterwards that the management team had earmarked the full-forward for a potential Ulster semi-final return, however, needs must and all that.
“I’d said during the week when I was talking to the media about Andrew and his availability, we were targeting Andrew maybe for the next game in two weeks time and I was being honest.
“That’s how we assessed the injury and to get some game time under his belt we knew there was maybe 10 or 15 minutes in him and we played him just in that last period.
“Knowing the quality of the player, he is superb and I said it already he can turn the game on a sixpence and we seen that with the high ball coming in but also in the way he got out in front for the first point and turned and scored, something that wasn’t happening on the inside.”
Armagh played well yesterday and deserved their win, however, would they have gotten over the line without Murnin’s intervention? It’ll be interesting to see the role he plays against Cavan.