Story By: Cross Examiner
Allianz Football League Division 2. Armagh v Fermanagh, Athletic grounds @ 7.00pm Sat 27th February
When Armagh earned promotion to Division Two for 2016 Saturday night’s visitors to the Athletic Grounds, Fermanagh accompanied them, having lost the Division Three League final between the two 0-16 to 0-11. Since then it is the Ernesmen graph that has hit the upward spiral with the Armagh progress coming to a stuttering halt.
With 5 Ulster teams in the 8 team Division Two it was always going to feel like a mini Ulster Championship going on in the League. Given that Armagh are pointless after two opening League defeats to Meath and Laois the four games with Ulster rivals Fermanagh, Derry, Cavan and Tyrone will bring with them Championship intensity as the battle to preserve Divisional status begins on Saturday night.
Armagh and Cavan are at the foot of the table pointless whilst visitors Fermanagh following a 3-13 to 1-10 loss away to Derry in their League opener bounced back with a 0-10 to 0-6 home win over Meath who had beaten Armagh in Navan 1-10 to 0-8 on the opening weekend of League action. Armagh made a storming second half comeback against Laois coming from 7 points down to lose out by the minimum 1-13 to 0-15 in the end. Fermanagh’s last visit to the Athletic Grounds for their Division 3 League meeting resulted in a draw 1-10 apiece with the Fermanagh full forward line of Sean Quigley (0-6), Tomas (0-1) and Ruairi Corrigan (1-0) accounting for 1-7 of their total score.
Fermanagh have scored 1-20 in their two League outings with their scores coming from 8 different players Tomas Corrigan (0-7), Sean Quigley (0-6), Ruairi Corrigan (1-1), Aidan Breen (0-2), Eoin Donnelly (0-1), Barry Mulrone (0-1), Declan McCusker (0-1), Ryan Hanna (0-1). Armagh have scored 0-23 in their two outings with 9 different players on the scoresheet- Stefan Campbell (0-7), Miceal McKenna (0-5), Gavin McParland (0-4), Ethan Rafferty (0-2), Niall Grimley (0-1), Shea Heffron (0-1), Aidan Forker (0-1), S Forker (0-1), C Watters (0-1). Worrying from an Armagh point of view is that in 3 McKenna Cup and 2 League outings the Orchard boys have only raised one Green flag a Miceal McKenna goal in a loss to UUJ.
TIMELY INJURY BOOST FOR ARMAGH
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney received a timely boost on the injury front as Andy Mallon, Rory Grugan and Andy Murnin are expected to be in the frame for the Fermanagh game as well as Ciaran McKeever and Mickey Murray. If Crossmaglen Rangers players make themselves available, now that they are out of the Club Championship, this will be another boost for the manager and the Armagh cause.
Rival manager Pete McGrath has no injury worries and will have his team well prepared for the pace and intensity that will await his charges at the Athletic Grounds.
The last home game with Laois saw a subdued Athletic Ground atmosphere with a smaller than usual home support. For survival in the League home wins are a must and a second home defeat is unthinkable. With Galway and Derry yet to come to the Athletic Grounds, Armagh will have to rebuild the status of “fortress Athletic Grounds” to keep their Division Two status intact.
Way off the pace in a scoreless second half display at Navan, Armagh were a little unfortunate not to grab at least a share of the spoils with Laois. The similarities between both those opening defeats give a pointer to where the trouble will come from on Saturday night. Meath’s edge of the square man Mickey Newman (1-4), Laois “big man” Donie Kingston 0-5 Fermanagh’s Sean Quigley?. The Meath inside forward trio accounted for 1-7 of their tally, the Laois inside trio accounted for 1-6 of their tally. In contrast the starting Armagh full forward lines have contributed 0-3 and 0-2 respectively.
The return of a few seasoned defenders should make a difference to Armagh who in fairness do not normally cough up easy scores but the obvious lack of cohesion and fluency of scores in attack is a worry. One goal in five outings and very few other goal opportunities carved out must be a worry. Another worry that must be taken into account is the lack of natural talented regular scoring forwards that are about. Coming through the underage ranks many of the current Senior panel were frequent free scoring players for their clubs but whether it be tactics or the step up in class the art that got these players onto the panel has disappeared.
There is no getting away from the fact that Saturday night is the “proverbial 4 pointer” even though it is only the third round of League action. Armagh are better than they have showed to date in the League and the fortnights break came just at the right time. It may be only February but the expected bumper crowd on Saturday night will be treated to a real intense battle with no quarter asked or given. It is real backs to the wall stuff for McGeeney’s charges and I expect Armagh to kick start their League campaign with their first win and a boost for the next away day at Championship opponents Cavan in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday week.