● Allianz National league Division 2 Round 6 Saturday 16th March Armagh v Fermanagh at 3pm in Crossmaglen
Not alone has this Allianz FL Division 2 Round 6 featured a change of venue, it also has seen a change in starting time and a role reversal for the teams involved, Armagh and Fermanagh.
With a Saturday St Patrick’s Day Parade taking place in Armagh the original venue for the match, it was decided to switch this crucial League encounter to St Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen (where the final round league encounter at home to Cork was to be played next weekend, now transferred back to the Athletic Grounds) at 3pm this coming Saturday.
Twelve months ago it was Armagh whom Fermanagh were chasing from promotion out of Division Three. Armagh won the League final against Fermanagh but exited the Ulster Championship 0-12 to 0-7 at the hands of the Ernesmen who lost out heavily 2-18 to 0-12 in the Ulster final. On July 7 with places in the Super 8’s up for grabs Armagh exited the Championship at the hands of Roscommon 2-22 to 1-19 with Fermanagh bowing out 3-20 to 0-18 to Kildare leaving both to focus on their 2019 Division Two campaign.
There has been a remarkable change in fortunes for both teams ahead of Saturday’s game as a Fermanagh win will put them on the cusp of Division One football next year with a game to go and a defeat for Armagh will see them involved in a last day relegation decider with Cork. Ridiculed for their ultra defensive style of play over the course of their opening 3 League games recording just 8,7 and 8 scores in those games but since then Rory Gallagher’s charges have in their wins over Donegal and Clare posted 0-13 and 0-12 to remain the only unbeaten team in the division with 3 wins and 2 draws to their credit.
Armagh have accumulated 4 points from their 5 games played with 1 win, 2 losses and 2 draws under their belts they are fourth from bottom a point clear of Clare, Cork and Tipperary and very much in the relegation mix a position which was predicted for Fermanagh before a ball was kicked in this League campaign.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney will be minus the services of midfielder Stephen Sheridan who was retrospectively given a 2 match ban following the Donegal game and is also awaiting the appeal against the red card issued to James Morgan in the same match.
Ethan Rafferty and Ryan Kennedy both used as substitutes in the 1-9 to 0-11 loss to Donegal are likely replacement for defender and midfielder with Jarly Og Burns and Mark Shields giving the Orchard manager other choices for this must win encounter. Another big worry for Armagh management is their team’s discipline with a staggering 28 frees conceded in Ballybofey against a home side who went “softly to ground” and were very streetwise to the match officiating.
Given all of their recent meetings in League and Championship Fermanagh will bring only one new element of surprise for Armagh to Cross with them on Saturday-supreme confidence to go with their rising status within the game. Fermanagh management have tailored a system and style of play to suit their squads needs, it may not be most observers “cup of tea” but it is proving extremely successful as their results bear out.
Armagh will have to get to grips with towering midfielders Eoin Donnelly and Ryan Jones who win a lot of primary ball in the middle sector and Fermanagh boss Rory Gallagher also has lots of pace in his Erne side. Chief freetaker and scorer Sean Quigley has got added help in the scoring department with Aidan Breen, Declan McCusker, Ciaran Corrigan, Danny Teague and Conall Jones all featuring on the scoreboard in recent games.
Armagh started brightly against Donegal but then like in all the other League games became very patchy as indiscipline and wrong shot and pass choices littered their play. It was only when the game looked beyond them with Donegal 4 points in front that Armagh threw off the shackles, threw caution to the wind and went direct with the ball into the forwards and only for the clock would not have come out of Donegal empty handed.
Saturday in Cross will have to be treated like a full blooded Championship encounter from the off with a structure disciplined plan to overcome what the opposition bring to the table if victory is to be achieved. Scoring chances, which might be at a premium, given the current defensive credentials of Fermanagh will have to be taken. More importantly Saturday could develop into a very cagey low scoring tactical battle where possibly those who are sprung from the bench may very well prove to be the match winners.
There is little doubt but that this Fermanagh match is the toughest test Armagh have faced in this League campaign to date. The stakes are very high for both teams and I believe that the Armagh need for the win in a very boisterous intimidating atmosphere for the visitors will be enough to see them over the line to secure at the very least their divisional status.