Jamie Clarke can spark new life into Armagh
Jamie Clarke was mildly amused to see himself touted in the pre-match publicity as the Armagh captain for the Ulster Championship clash against Cavan.
The Crossmaglen Rangers ace had indeed worn the skipper's armband in games during the Allianz League but only because of Ciaran McKeever's protracted absence due to damage to his medial ligament incurred at training three days after the team played Down
McKeever had targeted the Ulster Championship fixture against Cavan as his return date and he certainly revealed his experience and authority in spades at the Athletic Grounds in that game.
For much of the league, Armagh were without their more experienced corps and manager Paul Grimley turned to Clarke, then perhaps his most experienced player, to provide leadership.
Now Armagh find that they must seek leadership from several sources – including ace marksman Clarke – if they are to create an upset in Saturday's semi-final against reigning champions Monaghan.
Clarke scored three points (two frees) but was also at the heart of Armagh's attacking mechanism and even though he was always marked by two Cavan players, he invariably managed to off-load a pass away or get his shot in.
Manager Grimley believes that even though Andy Mallon, Kieran Toner and Brendan Donaghy look set to miss the match because of suspension and Caolan Rafferty will be ruled out through injury, he still has enough players capable of galvanising his side.
Skipper McKeever, Aaron Kernan, Charlie Vernon, Kevin Dyas and Clarke himself can fuel the Orchard County fire in a game which is laced with intrigue.
In addition, Stephen Harold, Tony Kernan, Kyle Carragher, Gary McCooey and Aiden Forker will make their pitch for recognition from the start.
"We adhered to our system against Cavan and that stood to us. The players who came in from the bench made a big contribution and proved that we have better resources, although the one-match ban imposed on three of our more experienced players is a telling blow," reflects Grimley.
The fact that the match is the first Ulster Championship fixture to be televised live by Sky Sports adds another dimension to a contest that is already dripping with possibilities.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness will be in the crowd to assess his Ulster final opponents – and it's an open secret that he would relish another confrontation with Monaghan in order to overturn last year's demoralising result.
- Controversy may have dogged the Ulster senior football championship to date but it's still the best of all the provincial competitions.
That's the opinion of Ulster Council Director Danny Murphy.
Murphy has long since articulated what he feels are the virtues of the Ulster Championship and now he anticipates a rousing climax to a competition that, despite the counter-attraction of the World Cup, has shown an upward swing in overall attendances.
"I think we are in for a fascinating semi-final between Armagh and Monaghan on Saturday," states Murphy.
"Sure, we have had our share of controversy but such is the commitment of players and managers and such are the high stakes that things are going to happen.
"The important element is that the overall entertainment value of games to date has been good and that is very important in terms of showcasing the talent we have here in the province."