No Garden Party

June 24, 2013

The visit of Wicklow to the Athletic Grounds for round one of the qualifiers will certainly be no garden party for the hosts given their last championship showing against the same opponents that needed a replay to decide the issue following a draw after extra-time. Wicklow come to Armagh on Sunday June 30 with a 3pm throw-in following their 1-17 to 1-12 defeat at the hands of Meath while the home side will be hoping to redress a dismal display at Kingspan Breffni Park as they lost 1-15 to 1-11 to Cavan.

The Leinster championship match took a telling twist in favour of Meath when the eventual losers had a penalty saved and the ball cleared to halfway where the full-back punted the ball forward which bounced over the keepers head for a Meath goal. Wicklow had earlier defeated Longford 1-15 to 0-16 to set up their quarter final tilt with Meath.

In the qualifiers in 2011 Armagh got a late leveller in extra-time to force a replay in Aughrim where a personal tally of 2-2 from Jamie Clarke helped Armagh to a 2-9 to 0-10 victory to set up a match with Tyrone who put Armagh out of the championship 2-13 to 0-13. Mind you, if Clarke was the star of the replay Wicklow full-forward Shane Furlong with 2-4 was the star turn of the drawn encounter. Furlong, with 1-7 is once again their leading marksman thus far in the championship with his corner forward John McGrath next with 0-6. Armagh will need no reminding how big an influence James Stafford was when the sides last met. The towering midfielder caused Armagh lots of problems with his mobility sure to give the probable Armagh duo of Lavery and Harold plenty to think about.  Stafford has a very able assistant in Anto McLoughlin who like Harold can dissect the posts to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The Midfield battle will be a feature of the game. Wicklow manager Harry Murphy is not as high profile as Mick O’Dwyer who was in charge the last time the teams met but nonetheless he has a settle side with returning skipper Paul Earls the only change to the side that beat Longford for the Meath game.

To say that Armagh were tactically naïve against Cavan is an understatement but is now water under the bridge, well documented and best forgotten about. The gameplan for the Ulster championship match obviously did not work and with the lure of the dollar coming into play for the next championship outing on Sunday things have to be changed. Counties and clubs all over the country have been ravaged by the lure of Summer work abroad and in the economic climate at home no blame can be attributed to those who have to make ends meet. The only problem I would have with players going abroad is why they got involved in the championship set up if it was their intention not to see it through. Of the team that started against Cavan full-back Declan McKenna used substitute Gavin McParland and panel players Peter Carragher and Michael Stevenson have opted out for employment in America. The rumours of further players boarding the Trans -Atlantic junket, especially following their success there last year are also rife. Brendan Donaghy, who did not start against Cavan would seem the automatic choice for number 3 while James Morgan is also back in harness having recovered from injury.

Manager Paul Grimley, who has seen his team lose a challenge to Leitrim but follow up with wins over Derry, Wexford and Offaly, is sweating  over the availability of Ciaran McKeever, Kevin Dyas, Stefan Forker, Kieran Toner, Charlie Vernon and Aiden Forker. Just back in light training this fixture might be a bit too soon to see Vernon involved. The positive, if any, from the Cavan match is that Armagh managed to score 1-11 without being overly impressive. As I have said before there is no point having Jamie Clarke in your team if you cannot harness a way to get a good supply of the ball to him. Jamie will be a marked man possibly double tagged in ever championship match which leaves space for others to operate in. Cross exploit the space available when Clarke pre-occupies defenders so there is no reason not to follow suit. If it is not working for Clarke in the corner a change of scenery might not do any harm at all.

The positivity pre the Cavan match has certainly been dented by the performance and obvious interval fall out. The clear the air players meeting and the public apology to supporters by the manager have all to be taken in stock. Armagh are a lot better than what was on offer in Breffni Park but will need to prove this by beating Wicklow next Sunday.  The players who were trusted to beat Cavan in their own back yard provided all fully fit should all be given a chance for redemption with McKenna the only absentee replaced by a fit Donaghy.

The pressure and public eye following his unwarranted TV criticism will certainly be on the Armagh manager. Paul should stick with his positive attacking intentions but remember that the best form of attack is defence. If one knows that the house is safe it is easy to wander a bit. Armagh’s forte over the years had been built on a solid defence. Their offensive potential is quite potent at present if given an ample steady supply of the ball. Putting the correct system in play often takes time and needs fine tuning. Supporters may talk with their feet for Sunday’s match but can be easily won back by a winning performance. Armagh are a better side than Wicklow and provided there are no hidden dressing room agendas their name will go into the hat for the second round qualifiers draw following their victory on Sunday with 4 or 5 points to spare.