Sports

A defining crossroads for Armagh

Thursday, 23 February 2017

ARMAGH travel south this Sunday, February 26 to take on hosts Longford in their third round tie in the National League Division 3. Throw in is at 2pm.

It is their first game in a run of three, Longford (away), Offaly (home) and Louth (away), difficult yet winnable games in quick succession.

This coming game against Longford will be a defining game for Armagh as they currently sit at a 'crossroads' between possible promotion or possible relegation. Should they defeat Longford and are then inspired to beat Offaly and Louth, Armagh could gain promotion.

If Armagh lose again, the future could unfold in to a relegation fight and nobody wants to see Armagh in Division Four.

Last year, Longford expected to do well but despite all their efforts they finished in fifth place in Division 3.

Shrew manager, Denis Comnerton in his second year in charge, however, had kept them in promotion contention until the final game and ultimately it was scoring difference which prevented them from winning back-to-back promotions.

In the Championship last season, Longford (noted for taking the scalps of bigger counties, especially Derry in recent years), had an impressive run in the qualifiers, beating Down and Monaghan.

In the O'Byrne Cup this January, they had two wins out of three and they've had a reasonably bright start to this season's campaign.

In their opening game, they cut loose after a balanced first half and a Larry Moan goal, despite Offaly's attempted late comeback to win comfortably 1-12 to 0-10.

Their second game with current division leaders, Louth ended controversially. Longford had come back from being 11-6 down to be just one point behind going in to the third minute of injury time from a Sean McCormack free.

Still in that third minute of the four minutes of indicated added time, the referee blew time with Longford in possession.

Afterwards, Colin Kelly, Louth's manager, admitted that by blowing a minute short of the allocated time, that Longford were entitled to be very frustrated and angry by the decision.

Longford will certainly put it up to Armagh at home. In Paddy Collum they have an excellent 'keeper, whose save at 9-6 to prevent a goal in the Offaly game went a long way to ensuring victory.

They have a teak tough, tight marking defence well marshalled at centre-half back by Padraig McCormack, who also has an eye for bombing forward for scores.

Darren Gallagher and John Keegan are a strong midfield pairing who are adept at closing out the opposition in their sector.

Up front, they have a lively forward who can score by the players to look out for as they pose a real threat are Robbie Smyth (their main free-taker) who has hit 7 points in each of the first two games.

Armagh simply must avoid fouling inside their '45'. Sean McCormack, Brian Farrell and Liam Comnerton are other who regularly post scores. Corner forward Larry Doran is a 'will o' the wisp' type of player, who can poach a goal out of nothing.

Longford, like Armagh, are waiting on a raft of their better players to come back from injury.

Some of these like Brian Kavanagh, Diarmuid Masterson (suspension), Michael Brady and Andrew Farrell could be in the frame for Sunday.

Sunday will be a difficult challenge, yet if Armagh play consistently to their potential (e.g. the third quarter in the Laois game) they can secure a rewarding and uplifting victory.

Armagh's aim should be to keep a clean sheet at least on Sunday. Kieran McGeeney's hands are tied at the moment in that there is competition for places in midfield and forwards, but for various reasons Armagh have a dearth of defenders.

James Morgan, Ciaron McKeever, Brendan Donaghy, Andy Mallon, Paddy Morrison and Joe McElroy are currently missing from the defence and so competition for places is compromised.

Sunday's defence will probably be similar to the Laoisu game, yet Ciaran Higgins may be fit to start.

The midfield will be two from four of Stephen Sheridan, Aaron Findon, Niall Grimley and Ben Crealey.

Four of the forward whom I fee definitely will start are Stefan Campbell, Rory Grugan, Oisin O'Neill and Jamie Clarke.

I do hope also that Ethan Rafferty is included as his physical presence and scoring ability will be needed.

The sixth forward will come from the quartet of Anton Duffy, Oisin MacIomhair, Ciaran O'Hanlon or Gavin McParland.

Considering the other Division 3 fixtures, the thought struck me that if Armagh secure a win over Longford, that they are capable of doing, Sligo beat Antrim, Tipperary beat Laois and Louth beat Offaly, then Armagh would be sitting in fourth place on three points, with Louth on six points, Sligo next on five and Tipperary third on four points.

Remember Armagh finished second to Fermanagh when promoted back to Division 2 two years ago.

Like the bookmakers pre-league, I still believe Armagh will be one of the promoted teams this season.

We only fail if we don't try and if Armagh are working hard and trying hard to go up, I'll keep faith in their resolve.

Good luck to every single member of management and playing squad this Sunday.

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