Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

All-Ireland Qualifiers: Armagh ready for Tyrone, says O’Rourke

Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke

In the past 10 years Tyrone and Armagh have met on eight occasions in championship football with the Red Hands winning four, Armagh two and with two games drawn.

These statistics would certainly appear to give Mickey Harte’s side something of a head start going into tomorrow night’s All Ireland qualifier with the ‘auld enemy’ at Healy Park, Omagh.

But the Red Hands’ impressive track record is only one reason why they find themselves in pole position for what is the teams’ biggest match of the year to date.

They may have lost to Donegal in the Ulster semi-final when errant shooting and defensive lapses contributed to their downfall but Tyrone’s qualifier win over Longford proved significant on several fronts.

They started without some marquee players including Brian Dooher, Stephen O’Neill, Owen Mulligan, Enda McGinley, Kevin Hughes and Davy Harte, yet eased to a relatively comfortable victory in the end.

And with Kyle Coney and substitute Tommy McGuigan impressing, Tyrone now have rather more options at their disposal.

Armagh, meanwhile, hurdled Wicklow after a replay but cannot quite match the Red Hands in terms of playing resources.

Yet, James Lavery and Charlie Vernon are capable of holding their own at midfield while Brendan Donaghy, Aaron Kernan and Andy Mallon lend an experienced edge to a defence that faces a huge task against the Tyrone front line in which Brian McGuigan, Mark Donnelly, Colm Cavanagh and Peter Harte will constitute a big threat.

Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke is under no illusions about the enormity of the task confronting his side.

“This game against Tyrone is a big step up for us. They have been the form team and they have three All Ireland titles under their belts. They are still very much in the frame for another title but we are up for the challenge,” says O’Rourke.

The finishing skills of Jamie Clarke have had much to do with Armagh’s progress. In the two games against Wicklow he scored 2-7 so it’s no surprise that he will be carefully policed by the O’Neill county rearguard tomorrow.

“Jamie is a goal-getter and the brace he got against Wicklow last Saturday came at just the right time in the match. But the Tyrone defence contains lots of experience and will not be easily breached,” maintains O’Rourke.

Clarke will have the able assistance of Steven McDonnell and the versatile Malachy Mackin in the Armagh attack while Micheál O’Rourke can also provide an additional threat.

Armagh have been unable to achieve any real level of consistency this year, however. They lost their last two games against Galway and Cork in the National League before overcoming Down in the Ulster championship quarter-final and then losing out to Derry in the semi-final.

This saw the orchard county paired with Wicklow in the qualifiers and in a game that went to extra-time they drew with Mick O’Dwyer’s men at the Morgan Athletic Grounds before winning last Saturday’s replay.

Both these games made heavy demands on Armagh’s stamina and now O’Rourke must strive to fire his troops up for what will be their third game in a fortnight.

Having had two weeks to take stock and replenish their resources since that win over Longford, Tyrone’s craft, stamina and desire could prove crucial in taking them into a fourth round clash with Roscommon.

Tyrone: P McConnell; M Swift, J McMahon, R McMenamin; S O’Neill, C Gormley, P Jordan; K Hughes, S Cavanagh; C Cavanagh, B McGuigan, P Harte; T McGuigan, M Donnelly, K Coney.

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