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National Football League: Armagh expecting a pitch battle

By John Campbell

Armagh will face not one but two major obstacles when they head west to Castlebar in search of a brace of Division One points in the Allianz National Football League tomorrow.

Not only will they be confronting a Mayo side anxious to secure their foothold in the top bracket for next season, but they will also find themselves striving to find their rhythm on the much-criticised McHale Park playing surface.

With just two points on the board to date Armagh simply cannot afford to lose this game, but manager Paddy O’Rourke acknowledges that it will represent a significant test of skill and character for his side.

“Mayo have three points so far and will understandably be anxious to improve their position in the table given that they have home advantage,” reckons O’Rourke.

“We felt we were rather unlucky in our last game against Down and now we have to get things right tomorrow.”

While Mayo are already acclimatised to the heavy surface, Armagh may experience some difficulty getting into their stride.

But given their physical power best exemplified by Charlie Vernon, Kieran Toner, Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Malachy Mackin, their seemingly boundless stamina and fierce resolve, it’s unlikely that the pitch will prove as big a barrier as the Mayo side themselves.

James Horan has instilled a fresh spirit within his Mayo squad since becoming manager and with captain Alan Dillon along with players like Ronan McGarrity, Enda Varley and Andy Moran to lead the way, the home side will certainly not be lacking in fire and spirit.

The match will be something of an emotional occasion for Armagh forward Billy Joe Padden. He has played for Mayo on some 70 occasions in the past but this will be the first time for him to line out against his native county.

Padden, who now plays for the Carrickcruppen club in south Armagh and lives in the Newry area, insists, though, that his brief will be to see the orchard county return home with the points.

“I am very friendly with a lot of the Mayo guys having played with them for several years but now my loyalty lies with Armagh,” says Padden, whose father Willie Joe is a folk hero in Mayo having played for the team for some 15 years.

“But it will be a bit strange facing up to my home county.”

Armagh have a good record against Mayo but statistics will count for little in the context of tomorrow’s game, according to their skipper Steven McDonnell.

“We have had a look in the mirror since the game against Down and we are all keen to show an improvement tomorrow. Mayo are in the bottom half of Division One like ourselves and really neither side can afford to lose this game.

“That’s why it will probably be played with championship intensity — we are not that worried about the pitch, we are just concerned with putting in a good performance that will hopefully take us victory,” says McDonnell.

Armagh: P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty; K Dyas, C McKeever, P Duffy; K Toner, C Vernon; G Swift, B J Padden, M Mackin; M O’Rourke, B Mallon, S McDonnell.

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