Armagh looking for first win of the year
The return to Armagh training on Tuesday night of the Crossmaglen Rangers contingent was certainly timely as they seek to gain their first win in any competitive fixture of 2013.
Aaron and Tony Kernan, Jamie Clarke, Paul McKeown, James Morgan and Johnny Hanratty joined up with their county colleagues ahead of the Saturday night crunch fixture against Longford. Both sides languish at the foot of the table, with Armagh only marginally ahead by virtue of their stirring comeback last weekend against Wexford that ended up in a draw.
Longford meanwhile, have lost their opening matches to Wexford and Westmeath.
Armagh's problems are due in large part to their slow starts against both Laois and Wexford. In the season opener, they fell behind by 10 points to Laois shortly after half-time and despite a recovery, finished seven points short at the final whistle.
Last Saturday night, Armagh were ignited by Gavin McParland's introduction on 27 minutes. His brilliance and three goals earned the draw from Wexford, who had raced 11 points clear after 32 minutes.
Goalkeeper Philip McEvoy struggled to put his finger on the reason for their inertia, commenting, "We haven't sat down and talked about setting our stall out. That hasn't been our focus this last week.
"Every game we go into we look to start strong and build from there. It's certainly something we are looking to address this weekend and against Longford we will be looking to put a lot of the wrongs that have happened so far, right."
The return of the Cross players, famed for their ability to immediately put the opposition on the back foot, will be key to addressing this issue.
And while the Wexford game was a draw that almost felt like a win such was the atmosphere created by a stirring fightback, McEvoy feels that the team owe something to the Orchard support.
" Once Armagh fans see the team putting the effort in and giving it their all, they get behind you," he said.
"We probably let them down, we felt ourselves that we let them down in the first 20 minutes anyway.
"It's all well and good saying we need the crowd to give us something, but it's important to give them something back."
He added, "We were happy enough to get some kind of result out of it, but when you are playing the game you are looking for the win."
Armagh lost their top-flight status in a final-day showdown last year against Donegal in Ballybofey. Since then there has been much talk of the present division one containing the eight best teams in the country, something that wouldn't sit well with Armagh.
However, given the tenor of their remarks in public, they are talking their expectations down. Manager Paul Grimley has revived some careers and unveiled a number of new players in what is a fresh panel, discovering its own personality.
McEvoy's ambitions for the league campaign are spelt out clearly as he says, "When you get to my age – I've just turned 30 – for every game in club or county I go out to win each game I play in. Whatever comes of that, comes of that."
He continues, "I just take each game as it comes and it's similar with Armagh. I'm not saying I want promotion and that's it, I'm going out to play with Armagh and I want to win. Once the league games are over we will tot up the points and see where we are at. If we have a final to play, well and good. If not, then we will just focus on the championship and Cavan."
Looking ahead to the visit of Glen Ryan's Longford, his assessment is one of a 'must-win' game. "Whatever team does get the win can begin to look upwards, as opposed to whoever gets on the wrong side of the result can become embroiled in a relegation battle. It's a massive game."
It has become a worrying trend in recent Championship seasons for Armagh to underestimate teams, such as Wicklow who claimed a draw in the Athletic Grounds, and Roscommon, who defeated them in a first round qualifier last year, bringing an end to Paddy O'Rourke's spell as manager.
It is imperative to this panel that they do not repeat those mistakes.
"We are under no illusions that Longford will be a tough test and they will fancy their chances coming up to Armagh," McEvoy states.
"Both of us have yet to win a game so they will be looking at a good opportunity to get off the mark."