Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Armagh bid to stop the rot in Galway clash

From 2002 until 2008 Armagh were bracketed as one of the perceived 'big three' of gaelic football in tandem with Tyrone and Kerry.

Seven Ulster titles, an All-Ireland crown and a National League accolade all garnered since 1999 constitute a litany of honours that is the envy of many other counties.

But the orchard county's days of dining at the top table are over for now. When they meet Galway on Sunday week, Paul Grimley's side will pursue a desperate quest for a victory that just might afford them an outside chance of avoiding the tumble into the relative anonymity of Division Three.

Armagh may boast one of the finest venues in the country in the majestic Athletic Grounds and enjoy a recently-signed lucrative sponsorship deal with Rainbow Communications but their on-field resources are such that the current Allianz League campaign has morphed into a scramble for survival rather than a concerted drive for success.

Hence when Alan Mulholland brings his improving Galway side to the Primatial city seeking to embellish their own very slender hopes of promotion, popular defensive euphemisms such as 'a flat back thirteen' and 'parking the bus' will be banished from the Armagh dictionary.

Defender Aaron Kernan perhaps provides the best summary of what will be required when he says with considerable passion: "We need a massive performance against Galway, nothing less will do. Let's face it, this is the ultimate must-win game. We have to throw off the shackles and go for it."

It's a sentiment that will underpin Armagh's build-up to the game which commenced in earnest on Tuesday night when manager Grimley addressed his players following an intensive training session.

"The boys know what is expected of them in this upcoming game," observes Grimley, "We were gutted to lose by a point against Westmeath on Sunday and now we are fighting for our lives."

Armagh will retain their Division Two status should they beat the Tribesmen and Laois, managed by former orchard county hero Justin McNulty, overcome Wexford. If on the other hand Galway should happen to win and Derry lose to already-promoted Westmeath and Wexford get past Laois, then Galway will go up to Division One.

Four Ulster teams – Fermanagh, Antrim, Cavan and Monaghan – currently play in Division Three but Peter Canavan's side look certain to reach Division Two while Monaghan are also within striking distance of improving their status.

The view had been expressed privately by some Ulster Council officials at the outset of the competition that the province's representation in Division Three might be trimmed for the 2014 league.

Not too many people, though, would have thought that Armagh might be in grave danger of making the drop even though the team was forced to play for portion of the competition without its Crossmaglen Rangers contingent.

When Jamie Clarke was on song against Longford and Derry, Armagh garnered three of the four points they have to date. Clarke is on the other side of the globe now – and Armagh themselves are poised to enter a different world.

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