All Ireland Qualifiers: Armagh's forwards ready to fire against Fermanagh
When Armagh beat Donegal in the opening round of the All Ireland Qualifiers last month their full-forward line of Gareth Swift, Steven McDonnell and Jamie Clarke scored 2-8 between them.
Yet this is a unit thought to be dysfunctional without the imposing presence of long-term injury victim Ronan Clarke who has played just a portion of one game for his county in the National League this year and has been an absentee since then.
And while manager Paddy O’Rourke is patiently awaiting the return of All Ireland winner Clarke to his starting line-up — there are doubts indeed that the player will see action this year — he is now much more confident that the new-found spread of scorers within the side can prove the blueprint for more progress.
O’Rourke’s men confront Fermanagh in Enniskillen on Sunday (4.00pm) aware that the Ernesiders have not lost a championship engagement there in eight years and will be fortified by a desire to erase the bitter taste left by that mauling they received from Monaghan in the recent Ulster semi-final.
But the Armagh boss believes now that Steven McDonnell has been relieved of the burden of compiling the lion’s share of scores in any given game, his forward division can move with even greater cohesion and efficiency.
“Steven is a great player and has been doing the business for us this year but we now know that players like Gareth Swift, Jamie Clarke, Aaron Kernan and others can pick off scores from play and that’s a big plus,” said O’Rourke.
“We even have had some of our defenders getting on the score sheet lately. We will certainly need a spread of scorers against Fermanagh because, although they were beaten by Monaghan, they showed against Cavan in particular that they can set themselves up well defensively and can frustrate opponents.”
The rapidly maturing Swift and the enterprising 21-year-old Clarke have brought a new dimension to the Armagh attack since both reveal predatory instincts that complement McDonnell’s proven finishing skills.
But their collective artistry may yet be curtailed by a Fermanagh rearguard in which Ryan McCluskey deploys his experience well and in which Niall Bogue and Tommy McElroy provide valuable experience.
Certainly, Fermanagh manager Malachy O’Rourke is convinced that his side can offer much greater resistance to Armagh than they did to Monaghan.
“We were blown away by Monaghan in the first-half but we actually outscored them by 2-5 to 0-7 in the second-half. I suppose you could say that this statistic is inconsequential but we have to look for positives. We are certainly not as poor as we were made out to be against Seamus McEnaney’s side and we are getting a big chance to prove this on Sunday,” says the Erne county boss.
Ryan Carson, Paul Ward and Chris O’Brien have looked lively in the Erne attack to date while Barry Mulrone is proving a significant find in defence. But O’Rourke concedes that Fermanagh will need big performances from Martin McGrath and James Sherry in midfield on Sunday if they are to regain credibility.
“We lost the midfield battle against Monaghan early on and that did not help us. If we can get the ball into our attack against Armagh we might be able to do something. Obviously Paddy O’Rourke’s team will be in good fettle after that win over Donegal but we must just concentrate on our own strengths,” adds O’Rourke.