For two Armagh players in particular tomorrow’s Ulster Championship tie against Derry at Celtic Park offers the chance to turn the corner in more ways than one.
Ryan Henderson and Brian Mallon have lined out in the corner forward positions of late in the National League but have not quite managed to recapture the scoring flair that initially gained them recognition in the county squad.
In contrast, Stevie McDonnell who plays alongside them in the full-forward line has emerged as the country’s leading hot-shot and enters the Championship with his already considerable reputation even further enhanced.
Lurgan man Henderson was recalled to the Orchard County fold by Peter McDonnell and has been retained in the squad by his successor Paddy O’Rourke while Mallon, who has endured prolonged frustration in the recent past because of injury, is striving to recapture the form that made him one of the most dynamic players in the province shortly after his introduction to the Armagh side.
While O’Rourke admits that a big performance will be required tomorrow from his attack as a unit if a first round meeting with Monaghan is to be earned, he insists that players who are not getting on the scoresheet as often as he might wish are nonetheless fulfilling important roles within the side.
“We have some players who are dropping back deep to win possession and then helping to get the ball in quickly to someone like Stevie McDonnell,” points out O’Rourke.
“In recent games we have been getting a greater spread of scorers and that’s something that I see as an encouraging sign for tomorrow’s game.”
Henderson has been substituted in some recent games but O’Rourke retains faith in the Clan Eireann clubman who clearly held off a stiff challenge from Maghery’s Stefan Forker, impressive in the Division Two final win, to get the nod for tomorrow’s tie.
O’Rourke, pleased that competition for starting places has been stepped up within his side, has lost no time in lauding the role of his substitutes of late and stressing that he will not hesitate to make changes tomorrow depending on what course the game is taking.
“I said when I took over Armagh that I believed there was a very strong squad of players available,” says O’Rourke. “Of late, we have had players come in during matches and do very well for us.
“Now we are going up to the next level in the Championship and I have no doubt that if people are summoned from the bench they will show themselves well capable of meeting the challenge.
“Every team needs players who can come in and do their bit particularly given the demands of the modern game.”
The popular theory that Championship football is a ‘20-man game’ is certain to be underpinned tomorrow because of the overall pace, energy and commitment that will be in evidence from the outset.
Both Derry and Armagh look set to employ their full complement of substitutes and in this respect there could yet be some surprise arrivals from the respective benches with Ronan Clarke perhaps even getting the chance to stretch his limbs with the Orchard County.