Celtic Park Yardstick

May 4, 2010

Armagh may have made it back to Division One of the Allianz National Football league as Division Two champions but the management team know full well that it is the May 16, Celtic Park clash with Derry which will be used as the yardstick to measure the progress the team has made.

The Armagh supporters basking in the delight of a League Final win over rivals Down have raised the bar for their managers to one prize “The Return of Sam” and nothing else will satisfy them. Senior leagues and Ulster titles, U21 and Minor All-Ireland’s have only inflamed the burning desire for a second All-Ireland senior title.

Armagh manager Paddy O Rourke fully understands the situation. Despite proving his appointment a success, only some four months into competetive action, Down native Paddy was making championship plans even with league promotion already secured. In the lead up to the League Final Paddy, Donal and Justin added 5 players to their championship panel.

Three players from the under 21 squad , Crossmaglen trio , Jamie Clarke, Francis Hanratty and Paul McKeown were drafted in along with the vastly experienced duo of Enda McNulty (Mullaghbawn ) and Martin O’Rourke (Dromintee).

With over 30 players used during a very successful league campaign by the Armagh management every avenue has been explored to assemble the best championship panel for 2010. The Croke Park league win over Down was ideal preparation for Celtic Park in terms of moral and competitiveness. Down asked a lot of questions of Armagh none least as to how they would respond to that Pairc Escler defeat, the first Down win over Armagh for 15 years. Armagh provided the answers both on and off the field. The players displayed great character in coming back in the last quarter after Down had taken the lead for the first time. Management got their tactics spot on showing that they had learned from the Down defeat. While Down manager James McCartan made substitutions who did not make that big an impact on the game, opposite number Paddy showed no hesitation in springing new recruit Jamie Clarke from the bench along with Malachy Mackin and Stefan Forker all three to telling effect which swayed the final in favour of the Orchard County.

If one suggested at the beginning of the league campaign that it would have turned out the way it did, especially with one of the main talismen Ronan Clarke playing a cameo role, your opinino would have been met with some ridicule. The refreshing brand of attacking football brought it’s league rewards, championship fare will be a different kettle of fish as well we know.

An anxious weekend for Paddy as he awaits the completion of club match to see if any more of his squad will, like Ronan Clarke , Ronan Austin and Kevin Dyas, be in a race against the clock to be ready for May 16. A fully fit Clarke, a certain inclusion in the starting 15, is only rated a 50/50 chance of being ready. Ronan suffered a setback in his recovery from an Achilles injury in a recent club game and missed the league final. The Pearse Og All-Star in a recent interview said “I just overdid it a bit in a league game for the club. I maybe should have played a half instead of the whole game. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Achilles started getting sore after that game, so that’s when I went for another scan.”It showed there was inflammation around the Achilles. The foot is back in the (air) boot, so it will be reassessed when I get the boot off next week and I’ll take it from there.”
News from an injury plagued Derry camp is mixed. Manager Damian Cassidy has recalled Dungiven midfielder Cathal McKeever and also brought in a trio from the U-21 side Brian Doyle, Emmett McGuckin and Oisin Dufy to the championship squad.
Paddy Bradley, who has led the Oak Leaf attack for the last 12 years, is recovering from a hamstring injury and will be a major loss if he does not make the starting line-up.Cassidy will be boosted by a return to club action for 2004 All-Star Enda Muldoon. Derry trainer, former Antrim star Kevin Madden, is refusing to rule him out of the reckoning for the championship opener on May 16.
“Enda has had a tough year-and-a-half with injuries, but credit to him for sticking at it. I’ve serious admiration for the man for digging in and putting himself in a position where he could be fighting for a place in the championship. He’s been back out with us for a couple of weeks now and is working really hard.”
With Armagh and Derry swopping places in the National leagues division one and two that will count for nothing in Celtic Park, a venue where championship wins for opponents have traditionally been very hard to come by. The countdown is on, the fitness race against the clock is gathering momentum, at the minute the make up of both teams is a bit of a conundrum.