Home comforts on a Saturday for Armagh
Following a couple of very useful BOI McKenna Cup outings which saw a win over Cavan and a loss to Tyrone, Armagh will turn their attention towards the very important Allianz National Football League Division Two campaign which begins on Saturday Jan 25.
The League fixtures decree that Armagh have 3 home and 4 away games to play in the League with relegation (unless you reach your Provincial Final) meaning that you will not be part of quest for Sam in 2021. With a lot at stake over the course of this League campaign the Orchard County are banking on the home comforts of Saturday night football as all of their 3 home fixtures Cavan Jan 25 @ 7pm, Kildare Feb 8 @ 7pm and Roscommon March 14 @ 6-30 pm will be played at the Athletic Grounds.
Indeed, Armagh’s opening 3 League matches will be played on a Saturday night as sandwiched in between the first two home games is a Saturday trip to MW Hire O’Moore Park, @ 6pm to take on Laois.
The three Sunday outings will see the Orchard supporters find themselves in 3 different Provinces, firstly to Leinster to TEG Cusack Park, @ 2pm on Feb 23 to face Westmeath, back to Ulster in Brewster Park, @ 2pm to take on Fermanagh on March 1 before heading West to Cusack Park, Ennis on March 22 for the final League game against Clare.
Having been promoted to Division Two last year Armagh began their League campaign with 2 draws away to Kildare (1-11to 0-14) and at home in Pairc Esler to Clare 1-13 to 2-10. The third surviving member of that League campaign 12 months ago are Fermanagh who were beaten in Crossmaglen 1-9 to 0-6. Cavan and Roscommon were relegated from Division One with Westmeath and Laois gaining promotion from Division Three. Armagh ended last year’s League campaign with 2 wins over Fermanagh & Tipperary, 2 draws with Kildare & Clare and 3 losses, two to promoted Meath & Donegal and one to relegated Cork.
Kildare, Armagh and Roscommon are the top three in the betting for promotion with the other 4 teams all seen as the relegation candidates, according to the bookies.
Armagh have had the psychological boost of a McKenna Cup 2-17 to 0-13 away win over first League opponents Cavan although there are sure to be numerous changes to both starting lineouts come the League meeting in the Athletic Grounds as opposed to those that featured in that Armagh victory. Cavan manager Mickey Graham has now lost forward Cian Mackey as the 32-year-old who came off the bench to change the Ulster championship match against Armagh last year, has announced his retirement.
With an opening McKenna Cup win over Cavan under his belt Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney, having handed debut appearances to Killeavy’s Conor O’Neill, Conor Turbitt from Clann Eireann and Jason Duffy, St Patrick’s, made 3 changes to his starting 15 for the home group decider game with Tyrone who had also beaten Cavan. Collegeland, Armagh All-star goalkeeper Niall Brady was given his debut between the posts replacing Blaine Hughes. Killeavy defender Caolan McConville who was a used sub against Cavan came in for Jamar Hall and Stephen Sheridan replaced Brendan Donaghy at full-back. Mark Toal from Granemore was another newcomer used as a sub against Cavan.
Tyrone were the better side throughout at the Athletic Grounds with Ronan O’Neill marking his return following a year out notched 2-3 with Man of the Match Niall Sludden dictating the play for the Red Hands who in the end were hanging on against the never say die attitude of their hosts. Rian O’Neill and substitute Rory Grugan, very impressive off the bench, both scored 1-3 apiece with Conor Turbitt again to the fore adding 0-4 to the 2-2 he scored on his debut against Cavan. Collegeland’s Cathair McGeary and Crossmaglen Rangers Calum Cumiskey were also given time off the bench by their manager.
An experimental Armagh defence could not cope against the 6 Tyrone starting forwards who all got on the scoresheet with substitute Darren McCurry weighing in with 0-4.
Armagh have unearthed some new talent and with defenders Paul Hughes, James Morgan, Paddy Burns, Ryan Kennedy and Brendan Donaghy and potent forwards Jamie Clarke and Andrew Murnin to come back into the equation manager McGeeney has his hands full in getting the mix right for the League. A 5-30 score return for 2 games is very pleasing but leaking a massive 4-31 at the back (quite a few points to some silly needless fouling) makes it imperative that Saturday night home comforts at the Athletic Grounds must yield 3 wins to keep Armagh on the promotion trail.
Exciting times ahead for Armagh supporters and little wonder, given their panel of players, that the Orchard County are, along with Kildare, favoured to reach Division One football with the bookies. Here’s hoping that Saturday night is all right for football.