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Forker calls on Armagh to reach for new heights

 

By John Campbell

Aidan Forker has captained Armagh in the past, played in several positions for the team and brought a dynamic passion to the table that invariably discomfits opponents and inspires his colleagues.

If the unassuming primary school teacher's tendency to live on the edge has gained him a rather too familiar acquaintance with yellow cards, then Orchard County followers have come to accept that as part of the overall package the Maghery clubman represents.

It is doubtful, though, if Armagh will require Forker's attributes more than they will today against Kildare in a Croke Park Round 4B All-Ireland qualifier that holds a magnetic allure.

The backdrop could hardly be more tantalising - Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney spent six years in charge of the opposition, who are coming into the game off the back of a taming by Dublin in the Leinster final and have won only five of their last 20 league and Championship contests at Headquarters, while the Orchard County, in contrast, have seldom looked out of their depth there.

But while Armagh have won three qualifiers on the trot against Fermanagh, Westmeath and Tipperary and rediscovered their momentum and poise, they clearly see today's assignment as a seminal contest.

At the outset of 2017, Forker made it abundantly clear that Armagh's target was to make "as much progress as possible".

He led the side in the Dr McKenna Cup before bringing his combative skills into play in the league and then took a front-stage role in their Championship campaign.

"I just want more progress," insisted Forker. "If you keep doing the right things our time will come - Kieran McGeeney maintains that this will be the case whether he is at the helm or someone else is.

"Obviously we would like to have avoided the qualifiers if this had been possible but we have just taken what has been placed before us and now Kildare will form our biggest obstacle to date."

The fact that fiercely-committed Kildare boss Cian O'Neill firmly believes his side are capable of stepping up on their performance against Dublin and that the influential Kevin Feely has been cleared to play following the rescinding of the yellow card he incurred against Carlow have bolstered morale within the Lily Whites' camp.

If Forker, Brendan Donaghy, Charlie Vernon, Rory Grugan, Ciaran McKeever, Jamie Clarke and James Morgan represent the experienced core of the Armagh line-up, then Kildare too are not short on seasoned warriors.

Tommy Moolick, Keith Cribben, Johnny Byrne and Paddy Brophy are no strangers to Championship warfare, their combined talents complementing the imposing aerial authority and masterly free-kicking of Feely.

Niall Grimley's emergence as a midfielder of rare talent and free-taker of the highest order has been a marked plus factor for Armagh this year, while Stephen Sheridan's growing influence in the middle third, Aaron McKay's versatility and the goalkeeping prowess of Blaine Hughes garnish a line-up that portrays new-found belief and a willingness to go the extra mile.

Forker, who has played both at wing-back and wing-forward but is prepared to put his body on the line in any area of the field for Armagh, perhaps best encapsulates the attitude and desire which his side will take into today's tie.

"We want to leave everything out on the pitch. If we do that we won't be far away," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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