Armagh to advance to the last four
● Ulster Senior Football Championship Sunday 19th may Pairc Esler at 4pm Down v Armagh
Armagh can overcome arch rivals Down to record their first Ulster championship success since their 1-12 to 0-9 win over Cavan back in 2014. Manager Kieran McGeeney will be hoping that his first Ulster win as a manager will be the springboard to launch the Orchard County back as a major player in the province given that it is 2008 since Armagh have won or appeared in the Ulster final. But despite Armagh defeat the last times the sides met in the championship at the same venue 2 years ago with Down going all the way to the Ulster final it is Armagh who will carry the favourites tag next Sunday. On that last championship win Down were quickest out of the blocks racing into a 4 point lead which they held at the final whistle. This time round it is roles reversed as Armagh are the Division Two team and Down are in Division Three.
A satisfactory Division Two league campaign which yielded 2 wins 2 draws and 3 losses and saw as many as 29 players used will leave Armagh management plenty to ponder as they select their starting 15 to face Down. The key for Armagh will be getting the right blend of experience and youth to face a Down side keen to atone from missing out on promotion from Division Three. Down under new manager Paddy Tally began and ended their league campaign with respective defeats to Laois and Louth. Like his Armagh counterpart it will be interesting to see how Tally uses the experience of the likes of Donal O’Hare, Caolan Mooney, Gerard Collins and Kevin McKernan along with the talents of the emerging Cory Quinn, Daniel Guinness and Ceilum Doherty.
Jarly óg Burns, Rian O Neill, Jason Duffy, Ross McQuillan are a quartet of the younger players who saw league action with Jarly and Rian very much in the frame for a starting berth. The form of the Armagh veterans Brendan Donaghy and Charlie Vernon has been impressive and their experience will be key.
Both side may have been experimental during the league but come Sunday that will all change with only those on the casualty list being left out. Defensively both sides are on an even keel but it crucially in attack where I see Armagh having the big advantage. Down are very dependent on league top scorer Donal O Hare (4-22) for most of their scores. Armagh will be looking to the likes of Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell, Jamar Hall and Rian O’Neill to notch the match winning scores.
Two years ago Armagh failed to break down the home defence and paid the price by losing. The most interesting feature of Sunday’s “local derby” is going to be the approach that both managers decide as too what’s the best way to approach this game. Will Armagh be ultra cautious or will they go at it from the off. Given that the Orchard manager stated that he would rather a Super 8 spot over a win over Down there can only be one approach from Armagh- go out and have a real go which should be good enough to see his championship hoodoo broken and a place in the Ulster semi-final secured.