Fortress Athletic Grounds
● Allianz National league Division 2 Round 4 Armagh v Tipperary
League football as always is very unpredictable but the saving grace for all counties when it comes to promotion or relegation has been their home form. Division Two had been earmarked as the most competitive of all of the 4 divisions and with only a 3 point differential between top and bottom of the table following 3 rounds of fixtures that prediction is proving true thus far.
Given that Armagh have technically played 3 away games their return of 2 points on the board would not be all that bothersome but for the fact that the draws against Meath and Clare should both have resulted in Armagh victories which would have put them joint top of the table on 4 points. As it stands Armagh are currently sitting second from bottom of the table a point above Cork in the relegation positions but yet only 2 points adrift of the promotion places.
Round 4 next Sunday against Tipperary is the first of 3 remaining home fixtures followed by a trip to Donegal then back to home comforts as Fermanagh and Cork are the visitors. Armagh will have to ensure a return of the maximum 6 points on offer to not alone pull them out of possible relegation trouble but put them back in the promotion race such are the current league positions.
LATE LAPSES VERY COSTLY
In each of their 3 league games played Armagh have been severely punished by Kildare, Clare and Meath in the closing stages of those matches. After 50 minutes at Newbridge Armagh held a 1-10 to 0-8 lead but a fourth minute added time point from Jimmy Heyland salvaged a draw for the Lily whites. At Pairc Esler against Clare David Tubridy pilfered 1-1 in 3 minutes of added time to earn Clare a draw. In Pairc Tailteann, Navan Armagh had cut a 9 point interval deficit to 1 but hosts Meath then outscored them 1-3 to 0-1 to run out 2-13 to 0-13 winners.
Team management will be more than anxious over the course of the next 4 games to halt these late lapses which have proven very costly.
Another huge worry for Kieran McGeeney and his management team to get right ahead of the visit of Tipp and further afield is his defence. Currently Armagh have the worst defence in Division Two with the concession of a whopping 4-37 in their 3 games at the same time scoring a very respectable 2-37. When you make a comparison between Armagh and Fermanagh their respective scoring totals put things in perspective. Armagh have managed 12, 13 &14 scores in their 3 games whereas joint table toppers Fermanagh remain unbeated with 2 draws and a win after returning 8,7 and 8 scores in their 3 games. The Ernesmen though have the best defensive team in the division having only conceded 3-16 to date.
Goalkeeper Blaine Hughes and defenders Mark Shields, Aaron McKay, James Morgan, Aidan Forker, Greg McCabe, Connaire Mackin along with midfielders Stephen Sheridan, & Niall Grimley and forwards Jemar Hall, Rory Grugan , Stefan Campbell are the 12 players who have started all of the league matches played. Jamie Clarke, Rian O’Neill, Ryan McShane have started 2 games apiece. Jarly Og Burns, Charlie Vernon and Ryan Kennedy all started one game each.
Joe McElroy tops the substitutes appearances featuring in all 3 games, Jason Duffy has been brought on twice with Jarly Og, Rian O Neill, Ryan McShane, Niall Rowland, Aiden Nugent, Paul Hughes making it a total of 23 different squad members who have seen some league time.
One has to remember that Armagh have been without the services of last year’s County footballer of the year Paddy Burns, Ethan Rafferty and Andrew Murnin. Murnin is not expected to feature in the league but Burns and Rafferty are expected to play some part over the course of the next four games.
Manager Liam Kearns and his Tipperary squad will travel to Armagh in confidence following their 3-9 to 0-13 home win over hitherto undefeated Donegal. Tipperary like Armagh came a cropper in Navan 0-15 to 1-8 in the opening round of the league and then followed up with a low scoring 2-5 apiece draw in Thurles with Fermanagh.
Kearns, who has already been without the services of 9 players has seen his regular goalkeeper Evan Comorford join the long term casualty list after getting injured against Fermanagh with Clonmel Commercials Michael O’Reilly taking his place between the posts.
The most fame Clonmel Commercials player and the man who was responsible for Tipperary winning on their last visit to the Cathedral City, 2016 All-Star sharpshooter Michael Quinlivan is not expected according to Kearns to feature until the tail end of the league.
Midfielder Stephen O’Brien, centre-forward Liam Casey and corner-forward Liam McGrath were the men who rattled the Donegal net and with the returned Philip Austin and team Captain Conor Sweeney to the fore second half wind assisted Tipp overturned a 0-10 to 1-3 half-time deficit. Debutante goalkeeper O’Reilly saved a penalty from Jamie Brennan 3 minutes before the break which would have left the hosts in further trouble had it been scored.
Armagh will have Jamie Clarke available for selection having served his suspension, with his absence in creating or scoring goals sorely missed against Meath. After playing the last 10 minutes against Meath Paul Hughes will be pushing for a starting berth against Tipp as Armagh will have to improve dramatically defensively if they are to push on for promotion.
Armagh are the fourth highest scorers in the division behind Clare, Meath and Donegal. Rian O’Neill (0-8) is the teams top marksman a point ahead of Rory Grugan (0-7) closely followed by Niall Grimley (0-6) and Stefan Campbell (1-3) but impressively all of the regular starting forwards and midfielders have registered scores along with 1-2 from defence.
While every round of the league is important given the current league standings Round 4 this coming weekend could go a long way in separating the promotion and relegation candidates for the remaining 3 games. At home for the first time in this league campaign at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, Armagh must deliver a win. With Fermanagh heading to Donegal, Clare going to Newbridge all on the same Sunday afternoon after Meath had visited Cork on the Saturday night, two winning points for Armagh will at the very least take them out of the two relegation places.
Thus far in the league Armagh have had serious trouble with the direct running at their defence by the opposition and in fact could have shipped more goals than the 4 already conceded. That defensive frailty combined with not finishing matches strongly have undermined a lot of very good football produce by Armagh as an attacking force and has been responsible for the dropping of 2 points in their drawn games.
Armagh have stepped up a Division and have been severely punished for their lapses. The National League is for learning and experimenting which the Orchard County are doing as they blend youth and experience. With a week off from what has been a very hectic schedule ,especially for the colleges players who have been in action twice a week, Armagh have had a chance to iron out their issues.
Come Sunday afternoon it will be a long way to Tipperary for Liam Kearns and his players as they head back to the Premier County pointless as Armagh bag a vital victory.