Double Croke Park Visit

July 28, 2014

If you had told those Armagh football supporters (who were disappointed after missing out on going to Croker to see Gareth Brooks) that they could get seats, two days in a row, to see their Orange clad heroes perform, they would gladly have accepted that swop, which comes true next weekend.

Armagh Seniors will be in qualifier action on Saturday Aug 2 at 5pm against beaten Leinster finalists Meath (live on SKY ) and less than 24 hours later Armagh minors the beaten Ulster finalists will take on Connacht champions Mayo at noon on Sunday in the All-Ireland quarter-final. The reason for the two day trip to Croker is that Mayo, as provincial champions, are entitled to play before their senior team who take on Cork at 4pm on the Sunday.

Following relegation to Division Three in the League a sixth championship game the first weekend in August in Croke Park is probably the last thing that even those die hard band of Armagh supporters would have expected. But credit where credit is due the Armagh management team have turned the counties fortune round and they probably go into this Meath match as favourites following their impressive away wins over Tyrone and Roscommon.

With the Armagh footballers having inadvertently got involved in their “parade row “ in the win over Cavan which brought out a “media ban” the squad has gelled together to put in a string of ever improving performances. Everyone has been crying out for a system or style of play from Armagh for years, well now there is one in place it may not be to everyone’s liking but it is producing what matters most “results”.

Following the dismal league campaign which was blighted by a raft of injuries the focus fell on the championship outing with Cavan. In wins over Cavan, Tyrone and Roscommon coupled with a draw and defeat by Monaghan, Armagh has used some 25 different players over the course of those games in an effort to get the blend right. The big talking point in some quarters is that Aaron Kernan a probable automatic starter in any County side has been thus far unable to hold down a permanent “starting berth” but has been very impressive when coming on as a substitute to “Steady the ship and help close out games” with telling influences when being introduced. Like an awful lot of teams nowadays it takes a full 20 players to get you through a game and for their own reasons management see Aaron’s role at present as it is which is backed up by results.

In Aaron’s absence brother Tony has been in excellent form in terms of contributing vital scores on the back of an enormous work rate. Aaron Findon has been a revelation since being introduced at midfield whilst Ciaran McKeever has led from the back in a very solid looking defence. Armagh forwards are also combining a tremendous workrate with scores on the board. 1-14 of the 1-17 scored against Roscommon came from play. With 9 other players contributing to the scoreboard along with Jamie Clarke at Hyde Park the scoring emphasis has been taken off Jamie as the forwards blossom as a unit.

Good news for Armagh ahead of the trip to Croker to play Meath is that injured duo Kieran Toner and Ethan Rafferty are back in training adding extra pressure on a squad that is brimming with confidence and the competition for places at fever pitch.

Talking of confidence it is that which the question mark hangs over Meath following their 3-20 to 1-10 defeat at the hands of Dublin. The proud Royals will be hurt by that big defeat and will be out to atone next Saturday. The biting incident that involved Eoghan O’Gara and Mickey Burke grabbed all the headlines from the Leinster final and hid the fact that following a good opening half they trailed 1-12 to 0-6 at the break, Meath were very poor in the second half.

Meath manager Mick O’Dowd will take heart from a dozen wides on a day when nothing went right for the Royal County as Dalton McDonagh started at corner forward, Graham Reilly switched to midfield in place of Brian Meade. Stephen Bray (0-2) and Michael Newman (1-2) were the pick of their attack which functioned in spasms. Meath are a wounded animal and are very dangerous, Armagh will probably start as favourites which is just as dangerous. Armagh will be optimistic about their prospects against the Royal County as they defeated Meath in Navan in the NFL Div 2 last March by 0-19 to 2-10. League and championship are entirely different affairs. Psychology though counts as well as momentum and at present they favour Armagh which should be good enough to take them into an All-Ireland quarter final.

On Sunday supporters should return to Croke Park to support Paul Doyle’s young Minor team who are a lot better than they showed in the Ulster final. Behind 1-7 to nil inside 20 minutes Armagh did well to outscore Donegal by 10 points to 5 until they conceded a goal with the last kick of the game. Those sprung from the bench in the Donegal defeat certainly showed enough for inclusion from the start. A big day out for the minors but they have the talent to take the scalp off the Westeners if they can get a “tosach maith” to settle their nerves and get them underway.