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It is win or bust for Armagh

Thursday, 22 June 2017

It is win or bust for Armagh thumbnailCharlie Vernon will have a key role to play this weekend as he tries to keep Sean Quigley and Fermanagh's other dangerous attackers at bay

FOR either Armagh or Fermanagh their All-Ireland Championship campaign will be over before the end of June as the two sides meet in a crunch qualifier at the Athletic Grounds.

Sunday's game (throw in at 6.30pm) could be a defining moment in both teams' development as the losing manager of either Armagh or Fermanagh could be out of post.

It's that serious as both are now domiciled in Division Three next season and each team desperately needs a win to restore credibility and confidence.

Both managers, Kieran McGeeney and Pete McGrath's teams have flattered to deceive in their respective three years.

The fault does not lie entirely with either manager as club football in both counties is at a low ebb, with little development, nurturing and production of better players for both clubs and county. It's a laissez-faire attitude all round.

As to Sunday's game, there is no clear favourite as there is little to choose between the teams. The most honest assessment of their chances is to consider ONLY their National League form of the recent past, and their respective league reports do not read well, plus their recent opening Ulster Championship games.

Fermanagh won only two league games (against Clare and Down) and lost the other five including 23 point and 12 point defeats to Meath and Kildare respectively.

Consequently, they were involved in a four team relegation dog fight but Down's late score draw with Cork meant the 'Ernemen' were relegated, one point below Derry (who beat them in their last game and went down with them), Down and Cork.

Armagh, for their part, had a slightly better season which sadly finished fruitless. After drawing their first against Sligo, they then lost to Laois. Four wins on the trot over Offaly, Louth, Longford and Antrim had them on the cusp of promotion going into their last game at home to Tipperary.

As in earlier games, significant leads were not protected as Michael Quinliven's hat-trick of avoidable goals meant they lost out on promotion by a single point, even though their scoring difference would never have been surpassed and where a draw would have seen them promoted.

Come the championship, it was Fermanagh who were out first against Monaghan in the prelimnary round. In that game Fermanagh made a game of it for a time during the first-half, where they were level six times.

Both team's goals - Conor McManus (Monaghan) after a poor kick-out and Ryan Lyons (which brought an equalizer) came in that first half as Monaghan led 1-8 to 1-6 at half-time.

Monaghan then picked up the pace second half and during it they hit 10 points without reply to win with ease by 1-20 to 1-11.

In Armagh's opener against Down they looked a pale shadow of the brilliant play they delivered in some of their National League games. Two poor opening periods at the start of each half meant they were always having to chase a lead.

By the interval, they had fought back in an electrifying, exciting and quality first-half to lead at half-time by a point largely on the strength of two excellent opportunist goals.

When Down raced ahead at the start of the second-half, Armagh lost their way in hunting for goals or neglecting to score points when 'shots were on'. They were capable of beating Down, but like their promotion challenge in the end, they found they couldn't!!

Pete McGrath has raised credibility levels countrywide for Fermanagh but poor results so far may have Pete thinking 'I can do no more'.

Fermanagh's rise in Pete's tenure has been backboned by four key players - Ryan McCluskey in defence, captain Eoin Donnelly at midfield, and forwards Sean Quigley and Tomas Corrigan (Fermanagh's ace marksmen). I'd expect all four to start on Sunday and the team or with little variation that played Monaghan could be the one to start also on Sunday, thus - Tomas Treacy, Mark Jones, C Cullen, C McManus, Aidan Breen, Ryan McCluskey, C Murphy, Eoin Donnelly, L Cullen, Barry Mulrone, Ryan Lyons, Paul McCusker, K Connor, Sean Quigley, and Tomas Corrigan.

I won't even attempt to pick Armagh's team but I do hope that the team which is picked to start actually does start, especially if the player named but then left out is NOT injured.

Armagh may or may not start Paddy Morrison in goals as he played two full club games recently.

A fit again Ethan Rafferty, I'm thinking, may be strongly considered for starting while Kieran McKeever will be wondering how much game time he'll be given, if any.

Armagh's selection problems are really only four fold - one being 'who will partner Stephen Sheridan at midfield?' and the other 'three' are 'who will be the three players in Armagh's half-back line?' - whoever the three are may be ball carriers and runners but they certainly need to know how to defend 'also'.

A half-back line easily breached by the opposition can be 'fatal'. Stephen Harold, height-wise and pace-wise, could be used to mark Eoin Donnelly leaving Charlie Vernon and Brendan Donaghy as a strong pivotal bulwark at the centre of Armagh's defence.

Results may have been poor this season but Armagh's 'play' has been their best of the last three years.

Armagh either deserve or need a lucky break given the effort they've put in for the county but in a close game to call, the Orchard will simply have to 'erne' their victory on Sunday through their own efforts.

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