Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Tough league campaign begins at Newbridge

 ● Allianz National Football League Division 2 Sunday 27th January in Conleth Park, Newbridge at 2pm 

Armagh will begin their Allianz National Football League Division 2 campaign with a very tough away assignment next Sunday Jan 27 in Conleth Park, Newbridge @2pm when they take on last year’s Super 8 qualifiers Kildare.

For Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney it will be a return to familiar surroundings having revived the Lilywhites footballing fortunes during his time in charge 2007 to 2013. Geezer will know first hand just how difficult a task his team faces despite the fact that relegated Kildare failed to win any of their 7 Division One League games in 2018.

Promoted Division 3 champions Armagh who effectively face away fixtures in their opening 3 league games as their second round game at home to Clare has been moved to Pairc Esler (a neutral ground) on Sunday Feb 3 @2pm after Armagh were sanctioned by Croke Park for breaking a training ban last April. Armagh’s third round league match on Feb 10 is at Pairc Tailteann @2pm v Meath. The Orchard County will be at home to Tipperary on Sunday Feb 24 @2pm before heading to Ballybofey on Saturday March 2 @7-15 to face Donegal.The last two league games will be on home soil as Fermnanagh visit the Athletic Grounds on Sat March 16 @7pm before finishing off the league campaign in Crossmaglen on Sun March 24 @2pm when Cork are the visitors.

A very daunting league campaign awaits with a good start vital if divisional retention is to be achieved. Following a successful 4 match winning McKenna Cup start to the season with wins over St Mary’s, Antrim, Monaghan and Donegal followed by a narrow final loss to Tyrone the league is a totally different proposition for Armagh. Both promoted teams Armagh and Fermanagh will be looked upon as relegation candidates such is the step -up in footballing standards across all 4 Divisions of the league.

Stefan Campbell and Jamie Clarke have already shown how valuable their return to the County colours is as they settle back into a much changed Armagh squad of players which has lost attacker Gavin McParland. Whilst Clarke and Campbell are familiar with the older squad members Forker, Vernon, Donaghy, Sheridan, Grugan, Grimley, Morgan, Shields there has been a lot of new faces added to the squad by the manager. Goalkeeper Blaine Hughes, Aaron McKay, Ruairi McCaughley, Jamar Hall, Gregory McCabe, Connaire Mackin, Ryan Kennedy, Joe McElroy, Ryan McShane have gained plenty of match experience and along with that there is another brigade Rian O’Neill, Jack Grugan, Jason Duffy, Ross McQuillan, Jarly Og Burns chomping at the bit for playing time. 

Getting the right blend of youth and experience takes time and patience I think that Kildare manager Cian O’Neill went through as despite playing well in 2018 results in the league did not go his way but he and his team turned it around in the championship. Backboned by 3 Flynn’s Kevin (defence) and Neil & Daniel (full forward line), Paul &Keith Cribben, Paddy Brophy, Fergal Conway and Tommy Moolick Kildare will be hoping to start 2019 as well as they ended 2018. Manager O’Neill has enlisted the services of head coach Alan Flynn to join his experienced backroom team of Tom Cribben and Karl O’Dwyer.

The expectancy from Armagh supporters is reflected by the crowd that turned out for the McKenna Cup final as memories of previous glorious encounters with the bitter rivals in the counties heady days came flooding back. The only certainty for Armagh supporters come Sunday is that they will have to find another €5 as the admission prices to league games in Divisions 1&2 has risen to €20.

Competitiveness and progression should be the adopted critique for Armagh over the course of this league campaign with anything else that comes with it an added bonus. Donegal and Kildare are the bookies favourites to win promotion with Cork and Meath also ahead of Armagh in the betting. 

Armagh team selection for Sunday will be very interesting as there is a lot of competition for places. Whilst Armagh fortunes looked to have changed in that they now seem to possess better offensive than defensive options. Their continued barren scoring spells or failure to put scores on the board when in the ascendancy has come back to haunt them as the lack of some quality defenders in key areas sees them getting punished.

The league is a time for trial and error and gaining valuable consistant playing time for hitherto fringe players, not necessarily a result oirientated competition. Division Two is a big step up for Armagh but there is no doubt that given the quality of players available to the manager presently, patience and time to get all the ingredients together and playing in tandem as a unit should be afforded to all involved.