Different story this time round

June 18, 2018

● Round 2 All-ireland Sligo v Armagh on Saturday 23rd June at 6.00pm in markievicz Park, Sligo

The second competetive meeting between Armagh and Sligo this year will have a whole different meaning for both teams than their last meeting on January 28 in the opening match of Division Three of the Allianz National Football League. Saturday night at Markievicz Park, Sligo will bring the curtain down on the football season for one county with the winner advancing to round three of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Back in January Armagh enjoyed home comforts when they took on the Yeatsmen in what proved to be a very successful League campaign which saw the Orchard County crowned League champions and earning promotion to Division Two for next year. Sligo won two, drew two and lost 3 of their League games before crashing out of the Connacht Championship comprehensively beaten 4-24 to 1-12 by reigning Connacht Champions Galway in their semi-final meeting in Galway after Sligo had recorded a 1-21 to 1-11 victory in Ruislip over London.

Armagh crashed out at their first hurdle in Ulster as hosts Fermanagh 0-12 to 0-7 in what was regarded as a shock result but the Ernesmen proved that that win was no fluke as they followed it up with a semi-final win over Monaghan and now face an Ulster Final with Donegal. Kieran McGeeney and his charges were sent on the road to redemption with a trip to Mullingar to take on Westmeath who also had faced Armagh in the League. A 3-16 to 1-11 win for Armagh made it a League and Championship double which Armagh supporters hope will be a repeat story come Saturday night.

The first League match of the year was staged at the Athletic Grounds and Armagh recorded a very comfortable 2-17 to 0-9 win with the goals coming from Andrew Murnin and Ethan Rafferty who, following a bad injury in the win over Westmeath, should be ruled out for the trip to Sligo.

One reason why Saturday will be a different ball game is that Armagh started 10 players against Westmeath who started the League win over Sligo. Cathal Corey the Tyrone man in charge of Sligo had only 6 players who started against Armagh in the League on his starting 15 in the Championship loss to Galway. A disputed injury time penalty on their last visit to Markievicz Park earned Sligo a 1-14 to 2-11 draw with Armagh a result that ultimately lost Armagh League promotion in 2017. 

Armagh made 3 changes from the team that started against Fermanagh from that that took the field in Mullingar. Jemar Hall on his full championship debut did very well, looked lively and dangerous and contributed 2 points from play. Pleasing for Armagh management will be the scoring contribution from their substitutes Anto Duffy (1-1), Gavin McParland (1-0), Ryan McShane (0-1) who will be pushing for a starting berth on Saturday night. Stephen Sheridan’s loss through injury has seen Armagh struggle at midfield with varying partnerships in the Forkhill man’s absence fail to gel or ignite this sector of the field which has become troublesome.

Nineteen scores the second day out in championship action as opposed to 7 the first day is a good return in what was a patchy performance against opponents who seemed resigned to their fate before a ball had been thrown in. Sligo after being steamrolled by Galway who are emerging as real title contenders will be keen to atone for that display especially on home soil in front of their own supporters. Ably led by team captain Kevin McDonnell at midfield forwards Liam Gaughan, Kyle Cawley, Pat Hughes and Adrian Marren can prove a handful for defenders. It is at the defensive end of things that manager Carew has his problems and this is where Armagh can make hay and get the scores necessary to win the game.

Armagh to go a few miles further down the qualifier route by getting their name in the hat for round three of the draw next Monday morning by accounting for Sligo on Saturday night. Murnin, Grugan, Hall, McParland to prove too much of a handful for a beleaguered Sligo rearguard and grab enough scores to see the Orchard County frank League form in the Championship.