Crucial clash with leaders

March 3, 2009

Armagh v Monaghan

It may only be the third match in the current league campaign but already the meeting on Sunday between Armagh and league leaders Monaghan is of crucial importance.

Armagh have a win and a loss under their belts while the Farneymen have recorded two impressive wins leaving Sunday’s result to gauge whether Armagh are  promotion or relegation material.

An opening round win in Wexford for Armagh was spoiled by defeat at home to Laois in the next outing as opponents Monaghan beat Fermanagh and Wexford to lead the division 2 table by a point from Cork and Kildare. 2-12 followed by 2-17 is very impressive scoring from Seamus McEnaney’s Monaghan but the manager will be a little concerned that at the other end they have conceded 2-22.

Seamus’s Armagh counterpart Peter McDonnell has seen his teams opening tally of 4-16 cut exactly in half to 2-8 at home where he had hoped that Armagh would become near invincible as in bygone days. Peter has been forced to experiment with an in-experienced squad due to absentees and injuries whereas Seamus has been deploying his experienced charges in varying positions to bring something new to their play that has brought them to the brink of a national breakthrough.

To compound matters for McDonnell he will have to plot the downfall of Monaghan minus the services of Peadar Toal and JP Donnelly who were both red carded in the last match with Laois. On the plus side for Peter is that Andy Mallon and Steve McDonnell have got some more game time under their belts in recent challenges having both been introduced as substitutes against Laois. Enda McNulty, Paul Courtney and Tony McClelland also featured at Haggardstown against Louth.

Having asked that the Athletic Grounds become a fortress the Armagh manager must have been alarmed at how easily his fortress was breached at the first time of asking. First half yellow cards for Ciaran McKeever and his replacement Aidan O Rourke left Armagh very vulnerable through the middle which was exploited to the full by Laois. The return of team captain Paul McGrane at midfield looks imperative for Armagh. Despite trying a variety of combinations and pairings in both the McKenna Cup and the two league matches it has not brought much success to Armagh in this vital area of the field.

On a more positive note there have been some steadily improving performances in the forward division  from Armagh. Peadar Toal, Brian Mallon, Ryan Henderson and Kevin O Rourke look to be benefitting from extended runs in the side.While Henderson did not get it all his own way against Laois he has already shown that he knows where the posts are.  Ronan Clarke’s early season form has been very impressive and long may it continue. Martin O Rourke has busied himself as usual but must be given a more purposeful attack minded role rather than acting as a link man to basically what should be his own position on the field.

In defence Barry Shannon is improving with every outing with clubmate Vincie Martin, despite a few errors, adopting well to foreign territory. Half backs Chris Rafferty and JP Donnelly have not set the place alight with their performances in an attempt to win permanency on the team. The goalkeeping rotation system looks set to continue but thus far Philip McAvoy is shading Paudi Rodgers.

Twelve months ago against all the odds Armagh produced one of their better league performances losing out by a point to Monaghan. That match provided Armagh with the springboard to a very successful conclusion to that league. Let’s hope that Sunday will provide a similar platform as supporters can often be more satisfied by a performance rather than the result. Neither was provided the last day out so anything on the improvement side on Sunday will be a bonus.

Team Pld Won D L F/A Diff Pts

Monaghan 2 2 0 0 41 28 13 4

Cork 2 1 1 0 32 23 9 3

Kildare 2 1 1 0 32 25 7 3

Armagh 2 1 0 1 42 32 10 2

Laois 2 1 0 1 28 32 -4 2

Fermanagh 2 1 0 1 26 30 -4 2

Meath 2 0 0 2 21 31 -10 0

Wexford 2 0 0 2 30 51 -21 0