All or Nothing in Donegal

April 6, 2010

N.F.L. Division Two Donegal v Armagh, Letterkenny 2.30pm on Sunday 11th April Referee Joe McQuillan

Armagh travel to Letterkenny on Sunday to take on Donegal in their last league match with a place in the league final with Down awaiting the winners. Armagh have the added bonus that a draw will do them to advance to the final by virtue of a better scoring average.

The fickle mind of the football supporteris very much in evidence in the Armagh camp at present. The shock appointment to some supporters of Paddy O’Rourke as Armagh manager had left them with mixed feelings. A league campaign that has had a mixture of the good and the bad in terms of performances has thrown the verdict on the new management team even more open. But if it is a results game like in the championship which Armagh supporters are after, they would have been very happy, before a ball was kicked in the league to be going to Donegal in a winner takes all match for a place in the league final.

Having taken over from Peter McDonnell as manager, Paddy enlisted the help of Donal Murtagh and Justin McNulty as selectors and the trio have used a total of 29 players during the course of the 6 league games that have been played so far. Only 7 players Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy, Paul Duffy, Finnian Moriarty, Kieran Toner, Aaron Kernan and Stevie McDonnell have started all of the league games while Ryan Henderson & Joe Feeney have featured in all six starting five and coming on as subs in the other. The new management team cannot be accused of not giving players a chance as the quartet of Ronan Clarke, Vincie Martin, Barry Shannon and Colm Watters are the only ones who have only been given one outing to date

Armagh have scored 4-78 with 17 different players registering on the scoreboard but alarmingly Stevie from Killeavy has weighed in with 2-35 of that total. Aaron Kernan with 9 points is the next highest scorer followed by 0-6 for Ryan Henderson, 1-3 for Gareth Swift, 1-2 for defender Finnian Moriarty and 0-5 for Stefan Forker. Needless to say it has been clear where the problems lie for Armagh over the course of the league to date. There seems to be no cohesion in the forward line as a unit with everyone operating as individuals and no real pattern of play developing.

Management, to their credit have given extended runs to players to see if they could blend in but in the first real acid test away to Down in Pairc Escler Armagh were exposed as a non existant attacking unit by the league leaders especially in the second half. The near fatal second half collapse at home to Tipperary also unearthed some problems. For me the best Armagh league performance came in the opening nights defeat in Navan to Meath.

The experiment with Aaron Kernan at centre forward is not working for me as I feel that his contribution as an attacking half back outweighs his contribution as a playmaker at centre forward. The loss of Ronan Clarke (who has only featured once against Laois) and like Kevin Dyas is ruled out through injury for Sunday’s trip to Donegal has left a big void that has not come close to being filled by the players used thus far in the league. It is not that the players used are not good enough on the ball, it is their lack of ability to win the ariel duels or physical encounters with the defenders that is the cause for most concern.

Sunday will be the second real test for Armagh in the league in a match which should be up to championship intensity given the reward for the winners.  In both camps to date it has been the tale of the two number 14’s Stevie for Armagh and young Footballer of the Year Michael Murphy for Donegal. Murphy has already scuppered Armagh’s U-21 chances with a fine winning display against them and repeated that feat against Derry. Murphy has the distraction of an U-21 final on Wednesday night against Cavan to contend with before facing Armagh on Sunday. Murphy is responsible for 2-26 of the Donegal total of 7-65. But his closest assistant Colm McFadden has 0-20 to his credit which leaves one in no doubt as to where the Donegal danger lies. Like his Armagh counterpart Donegal manager John Joe Doherty has used the league to blood players using 27 in his six matches. Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Neill Gallagher, Kevin Cassidy, McFadden and Murphy have been ever present in the league for Donegal and carry a wealth of experience between them.

As I said from the outset, despite what you might like to think football at all levels has become a results game and if Armagh win on Sunday Paddy O’Rourke will be a hero having guided Armagh to a league final in his first year in charge. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome the fact that Armagh are well clear of relegation and in contention for the final should be seen as a step in the right direction. The Armagh full back line is shaping up to be one of the best in the country. The return from injury for Ciaran McKeever will be a boost to the half-back line on Sunday. If one looks across the spectrum of the 4 divisions of the league no team promoted or relegated is getting too excited at this time of the year. Tipperary nearly pulled off a remarkable recovery for a shock win in Cross against Armagh but their footballing graph is heading in the right direction as their won the Munster u-21 title by beating Kerry the following Wednesday night after losing to Armagh and being relegated.

The form of the home team Donegal has been every bit as patchy as Armaghs so there is little between them in that respect. The one thing that Sunday’s match brings is a real meaningful contest before the championship preperations begin in earnest. Armagh are a lot better than their last two league performances have shown. A little more self belief and helping hand to Stevie in attack can see Armagh come away with a result that will see them contest the league final with Down on April 25.