Clarke and Lavery doubts for Farney clash

June 1, 2010

Fresh from their 1-10 to 1-7 win over Derry at Celtic Park Armagh face Monaghan in the Ulster quarter final at Casement Park. With their home pitch out of action Armagh opted to take the game to Casement Park as opposed to taking on their Farney rivals in their own back yard, Clones.

It was at Clones last year when the sides last met in the championship in round one of the qualifiers with Monaghan shading a dire match 0-13 to 0-12 after extra-time which brought an end to the reign of Peter McDonnell as the Armagh manager.  His replacement Paddy O’Rourke is on the crest of the wave at the moment following up promotion and a National League Division Two title with the first defeat for Derry in Celtic Park since 1994.

The achievements of Paddy and backroom team are all the more creditable as it has been achieved without the contribution of one of their main talismen Ronan Clarke. The Pearse Og man has seen very little league action and was not even fit for the bench for the Derry game. Armagh supporters and management will be hopeful that the former All-Star will at least be able to take his place on the bench for Sunday. There are also concerns for midfielder James Lavery who came off in the first half in the win over Derry with a hamstring injury. The injury has responded to treatment but wheather it will have healed sufficient to get back his starting berth remains to be seen later in the week. Lavery was replaced at midfield by Vincie Martin who did no wrong but it was not until Charlie Vernon was moved to centrefield for the second half that the Harps man came into his own. When talking about substitutes none made a bigger impression than Jamie Clarke who notched the all important winning goal shortly after being introduced. Kevin Dyas also came on against Derry and hopefully the former Australian Rules star can kick start his Armagh senior carreer following a sustained period of injury since his return home. Kevin got a club game and the challenge match with Galway under his belt since his substitute appearance in the championship.

Under fire Armagh goalkeeper Paul Hearty redeemed himself big time with his Celtic Park display especially with the very crucial penalty save five minutes from time from Derry skipper Gerard O’Kane. The Armagh full backs of Andy Mallon and Brendan Donaghy did a super job on Eoin and Paddy Bradley allthough one must say that Andy was very fortunate not to pick up a yellow for persistant fouling. Ciaran McKeever did an excellent job covering and closing the space in front of the Derry dangermen by dropping back towards the edge of the square. Paul Duffy and Finnian Moriarty combined the defensive and attacking duties to a tee.

Allthough wearing number three Kieran Toner operated at midfield where Armagh did more than well against the formidable pairing of Patsy Bradley and Fergal Doherty who were expected to dominate. Malachy Mackin justified his starting inclusion with a solid hard grafting stint on the 40. Gareth Swift, Brian Mallon and Ryan Henderson all contributed greatly to the team effort without being singularly outstanding in attack. Aaron Kernan for me had his best outing since moving from his regular half back berth with the Crossmaglen man contributing three first half points and covering every inch of the tight pitch. Stevie from Killeavy continued his rich vein of form with some super points in a 5 point first half haul. Amazingly McDonnell failed to raise a flag in the second which yielded but 5 scores in all yet Armagh still won the contest. While the Celtic Park encounter would not have enderered itself to any purists of the game for supporters (who by the way spoke with their feet with only over ten thousand in attendance) matches are all about results and Armagh won.

The wide open expances of Celtic Park are expected to give scope for a free-flowing game of football. Clones is no small venue yet the last meeting between the teams failed to take off even putting supporters through an extra half hour of torture before a result was declared.  The Armagh side which took the field at Celtic Park showed no fewer than 5 changes in personnel from the team which played Monaghan in the qualifiers twelve months ago. Out are goalkeeper Philip McvEvoy, defenders Barry Shannon and Aidan O’Rourke and forwards, Martin O’Rourke and Ronan Clarke replaced by Paul Hearty, Finnian Moriarty, Malachy Mackin, Gareth Swift and Ryan Henderson. On top of those changes Aaron Kernan and Paul Duffy have exchanged their respective defensive and attacking roles from that championship match.

The word on the street is that Monaghan have never been better prepared under this new management team put in place by manager Seamus “Banty” McEnaney as they try and capture their first Ulster title since 1988, which would take them off the unlucky 13 mark. Monaghan with 2 wins out of 7 in the league only preserved their Division One status on scoring averages at the expense of Derry and Tyrone.  Monaghan beat Derry 1-16 to 0-12 and Tyrone 1-14 to 0-16 but lost to Kerry 1-16 to 1-12, Mayo 2-12 to 0-15, Dublin 2-11 to 1-9, Galway 1-20 to 1-14 and eventual league champions Cork 3-13 to 3-12.  As one can see from those results scoring was not a problem in the league with over a 1-13 average per game but it is in defence that the Monaghan side are coming up short with the concession of 1-19 per game.

Monaghan have been knocking on the door for a number of years without gaining access and many view this as a last chance for an ageing squad which has struggled to find new blood. The Moan brothers JP and Dessie, Vincie Corey (defence or attack), Gerry McQuaid, Dick Clerkin, Eoin Lennon, Paul Finlay, Rory Woods and the Freeman brothers Thomas and Damien have seen an awful lot of action between them and have suffered a lot of heartache. With their suspect rearguard Monaghan get a lot of people behind the ball and bring it forward to try and find prolific marksmen 2007 Tommy Freeman, Conor McManus and the enigmatic Ciaran Hanratty.

One thing for sure playing against Monaghan is that they will dominate at some stage at midfield and a lot depends on how they fare when in the ascendency in this area as they often fail to capatalise when in the ascendency. Andy Mallon will probably be given the job of watching Tommy Freeman while no forward will relish coming up against Brendan Donaghy who is fast emerging as one of the leading full backs in the country. The trend, as far as Monaghan has been concerned in the past, is that they tend to fade in the final quarter of matches having expounded so much energy in their style of play. In comparison Armagh have shown up extremely well in the closing stages of matches coming with a full flow and getting stronger as the clock ticks down.

When the teams take to the pitch in Casement all the questions of whose in or out because of injuries will be answered. In Monaghan’s case they could suffer more from absentees as they do not seem to have as potent a bench as their opponents whose management team have become very adept at springing matchwinners from their strong substitutes list.

Armagh set their stall out in Celtic Park to withstand the early Derry onslaught. Monaghan will hit the ground running as they open their championship campaign and Armagh will be battle ready following their winning momentum which has been steadily built upon. Paddy O’Rourke was very honest in his assessment following the win over Derry in saying that his team will need to show improvement. To their credit so far Armagh have responded very well to their managers promptings A much better game of football than the last Armagh outing and the last clash between these teams with Armagh exacting revenge for that qualifiers defeat to book a place in the Ulster semi-final on June 27.