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Title will be hard Erned

April 20, 2015

● Div 3 League Final

Before a ball was kicked in Division Three of the Allianz Football League Armagh were long odds-on to win the title. Having achieved their first goal promotion to Div Two, the Orchard County are 1 to 4 to capture the Division 3 Trophy next Saturday night 7-15pm at Croke Park where they will play Ulster neighbours, Fermanagh.

The fact that both finalists have produced similar League stats in terms of results and Armagh could not beat the Ernmen at the Athletic Grounds where they shared a 1-10 apiece draw makes those bookie odds look a bit lopsided. Armagh and Fermanagh will lock horns in Division Two of the League next year which was their aim before this current League campaign began with Saturday night’s Croke Park showdown the icing on the cake with a national title on the line. While a lot of people might regard a Division 3 title as meaningless it can be a stepping stone to greater things as 2013 Div 3 League champions Monaghan have shown most recently.

Fermanagh will be seeking their first ever league title in this their fourth final, whilst Armagh will be hoping to add to their 2005, 1-21 to 1-14 win over Wexford in which current manager Kieran McGeeney played a leading role. McGeeney and counterpart Pete McGrath used their League campaign to introduce” new blood” into their squads with a lot of fringe players getting game time.

INJURED PLAYERS ON THE MEND

I would say though that Armagh hardly planned to use 33 players over the course of the campaign but some serious injury problems contributed to that end total figure. On the bright side two of the long term League absentees Kevin Dyas and Stefan Campbell are back in contention for Saturday night. The duo, absent through injury after a couple of league outings, were an integral part of the championship team that performed so well last year.

It is worth noting that Armagh used 3 different goalkeepers over the course of the League Tim Harney, Niall Geoghegan and Paddy Morrison with the latter producing a poor performance against Sligo. In fairness to the Harps custodian not too many round him were up for this dead rubber game and the lethargically approach adopted just seems to rub off on everyone. It is worth noting that Fermanagh lost their unbeaten tag like Armagh in the last round of dead rubber fixtures for both just as Cork did in Division One.

An ever present for all 7 League games full-back Charlie Vernon reserved the Sligo defeat to turn in his poorest performance with Sean Quigley manning the edge of the square Charlie will have to be on top of his game to contain the Roslea rollercoaster who has amassed 4-42 to date in the League. Both managers will be out for victory and with full squads to choose from they face a few hard decisions before compiling their starting 15. Armagh had 17 different scores contributing their 11-76 recorded to date with 14 players doing the business for Fermanagh’s 8-89.

The one blessing thus far for supporters of both teams is that while the fare at times from their teams has been up and down, neither team has shown much negativity in producing dour defensive football. The match at the Athletic Grounds saw Armagh squander a big lead allowing Fermanagh to rally with a flurry of unanswered points to snatch a share of the spoils.

As I have said previously one was able to name at least a dozen of the starting Armagh 15 without hesitation but the current manager has gathered a crop of very willing hungry players who have set competition for starting places at a premium. Saturday night will be used as a stepping stone for the championship and one wonders how many of the team which started the last game in Croke Park an All-Ireland 1-12 to 1-11 defeat by Donegal. Only 4 of the 20 players used in that game Philip McAvoy, Aaron Kernan, Kyle Carragher and Brian Mallon are no longer on the panel with injury the only reason to rule out any of the other 16. Newcomers Ciaron O’Hanlon, Peter Carragher, Andrew Murnin, Caolan Rafferty, along with team Captain Ciaran McKeever who missed that Donegal game, Gavin McParland Mark and Niall McConville, Miceal McKenna and the remaining 8 members of the current panel will all be pushing for inclusion.

The game to judge both teams on was their League encounter in which Armagh were the better team but switched off in the final quarter. The big expanse of Croke Park suited Armagh the last day out as they exposed a Donegal side who are rated a lot better than Fermanagh. Saturday night will be all about desire on the field as the vast arena will be lacking in atmosphere even if it is half full. I have heard Armagh supporters complaining that the game is in Croker that’s being selfish, as it is every players dream to play for their county on that pitch, after all there is a national title to be won and put in a cupboard that has plenty of room.

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