Lights out – but the future looks bright

January 23, 2017

McKenna Cup  Armagh 2-19 Queen’s 0-9

Wednesday night was literally a case of lights out for both Armagh and Down in terms of this year’s McKenna Cup but there was plenty on show from both teams in their pre-championship showdown at the Athletic Grounds, which was won by the hosts 1-15 to 2-8.

Armagh did what they had to do to advance, beat Down, but a floodlight failure and 25 minute delay left Derry at home to Queen’s knowing exactly what they needed to score to put Armagh out on scoring difference and this they duly did. Two wins for Armagh over Queen’s and Down and 2 wins for Down over Derry and Queen’s will be seen by both managers as a good start to 2017.

In terms of what the Armagh win over Down will do to their Championship clash at Pairc Esler on June 4, the answer is simple, absolutely nothing, as both teams were in experimental mode with the starting teams a mere shadow of the sides that will face their eagerly awaited Championship action.

That said Down will be worried as to how easily Armagh browbeat them physically in the opening 25 minutes setting up a 7 point lead and holding them scoreless for 24 minutes. Down will be pleased that they were able to get themselves twice back into a game that should have been well beyond them and even had a shot at the equalizing point before Armagh sealed victory with a last gasp goal.

Armagh will be wondering why they did not capatalise on such a bright start by adding a few more scores particularly goals to their tally to put Down out of sight. More worrying will be a barren 23 minute scoreless spell after the good start and the leaking of 2 goals which kept Down in the hunt for victory. Armagh’s response to the two Down goals was very positive and pleasing

Kieran McGeeney will be disappointed that his charges did not reach the last 4 but will be delighted with the attitude and commitment of the 26 players given game time over the course of the 3 McKenna Cup games. 4-46 racked up in 3 matches with no fewer than 16 different players getting on the score sheet can only be a very positive thing E Rafferty (1-6), A Duffy (2-3), R Grugan (0-8) , O.MacIomhair (0-7),N Grimley (0-5),B Crealey (0-4), C McKeever (1-1), S.Sheridan (0-3), A Findon (1-0), A Forker (0-2), C White (0-2), J Clarke (0-1), J Hall (0-1), N McConville (0-1), J Magill(0-1), N Rowland (0-1). Given the amount of “new faces” that have gained valuable game time and experience and the established players that have yet to return along with the unavailable Armagh college players, who also performed with distinction in the competition, the future looks bright as the opening game of the Division 3 League campaign at Markievicz Park 2pm on Sunday Feb 5 against Sligo draws closer.

Indeed if Armagh are not cursed by the injury crisis that dogged them all of last year Kieran and his backroom team will have some selection headaches for that all important openingLLeague encounter. Expectancy within Armagh is always at fever pitch and the Orchard County will be fully expected to be promoted back to Division Two. Division Three is a lot more formidable than when Armagh won the title two years ago. Armagh were odds-on then to win the title but this time round they are second favourites 9/4 behind All-Ireland semi-finalists Tipperary to win the title. Armagh are at home to Tipperary in the last round of League fixtures on April 2 with the Division 3 League final fixed for April 8. Laois, Offaly, Longford, Louth and Antrim are the other 5 teams along with Armagh, Tipperary and Sligo vying for a place in that League final.