Armagh will need huge push to save season

Armagh will need huge push to save season
Eugene Creaney


Eugene Creaney


On a first glance the odds offered by the bookmakers for Sunday's Armagh v Tyrone clash don't make any sense.

The Red Hands are being judged as 4/6 favourites despite the fact they were beaten twice by Armagh this season and lost by 11 points to new Ulster champions Derry in the provincial series.

If the odds being offered have considered that Brian Doohers side only scored four points from play against the Oak Leaf side, then the Orchard men are set in pole position to move to the next round.

But all is not what it appears to be. Tyrone, as with Dublin, have had their down time. They have relieved the pressure which winning brings and now could be ready not only to beat Armagh, but again to challenge for the Sam Maguire.

It appears the dust has settled on the early season heroics which brought a league win over the Dubs and Tyrone. The plateau which was reached has levelled out as the "old form" returns with the realization that the Orchard side have struggled in the Ulster series for over a decade with few wins, and certainly none against the top teams.

With Kieran McGeeney's side struggling to get a grip against Donegal's midfield, it could be calculated that Tyrone's centre pairing of Fitzpatrick and Kennedy will prove sterner opposition if Ben Crealey and Connaire Mackin are handed the number 8 and 9 jerseys.

Despite the Derry set back Tyrone's front six of Meyler, Sludden, McGeary, McCurry, McShane and McKenna look a lot more potent than Armagh's front row which are efective only in patches. Adding Darra Canavan's panache in the closing stages may be crucial for the visitors.

Do Armagh have a chance? Absolutely. Can they win? It would take all the dices to fall in line.

McGeeney has lost Tiernan Kelly who was a revelation this season. Niall Grimley is also out, and the loss of Ciaran Mackin earlier is also being felt long term.

So all of this has raised more questions than answers. Will Stefan Campbell start? Is Oisin O'Neill match fit? Will Aidan Nugent be handed a starting place and has Ross McQuillan enough games under his belt to make an impact?

Also who will line out at wing half back in the absence of Grimley?

It was interesting to note that all the subs used in the Donegal defeat were forwards. Has the side enough back up defenders?

Tyrone scored just one point from play in the first half against Derry and lost their way in the second half. Their keeper, Niall Morgan, was forced to go long on several occasions following a Derry full court press.

There was also a suggestion that a lack of quality on the Red Hands' bench was also telling. On this year's form Armagh have a fighting chance (no pun intended), but the side have dipped since the early days of the league.

In retrospect there is no current form. A six-week gap will have tested the know-how of both managers. Crucial in house games are the only measure of form, but in the cold light of day Tyrone's "old form" and unquestionable class spread over their attack and a lack of pace at the back on the Orchard side which saw Donegal create sox clear cut goal chances, could prove crucial.

The Athletic Grounds will be bouncing on Sunday. Winning last season's All-Ireland will help the visitors, when experience in the white heat of battle will be crucial.

Bringing credence to Armagh's challenge is based on the possible and the probable. It appears that some confidence has ebbed away since the super league form.

Sunday will be their manager's biggest test and will shape the county's future for many years to come.

The reluctant prediction is Tyrone under all circumstances. The hope is they don't hit last year's form, or it could be a tough watch.

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