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National Football League: Armagh focused on staying up

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke has come in for some fierce criticism now that his team are on the verge of dropping into Division Two of the Allianz Football League.

Last Sunday’s surprise defeat by previously struggling Galway triggered ire in the orchard county with former Down All Ireland winner O’Rourke bearing the brunt of this.

Yet the Burren clubman has retained his dignity and decorum as he prepares for what is the most important match of his term in charge to date against All Ireland champions Cork tomorrow.

The permutations surrounding this match are almost as complex as the task O’Rourke faces in compiling what he believes will be his best starting line-up.

If Armagh draw with or beat Cork, then Galway and Monaghan will be relegated, irrespective of how they fare against Dublin and Mayo respectively.

However, should Armagh lose to Cork and if Galway and Monaghan both win, all three will be locked on four points so relegation will be decided on scoring difference.

As things stand, Armagh are on -10 points, Monaghan on -14 and Galway on -24.

Yet if Monaghan and Armagh lose and Galway win the two Ulster teams would be relegated as Galway won their head-to-head with Armagh.

Little wonder then that given this complicated scenario O’Rourke is totally focused on victory tomorrow.

“This is going to be a championship match in all but name,” says O’Rourke.

“We have to get something out of this.

“Our fate is in our own hands and we don’t want to be depending altogether on how other results go.

“Cork will be playing for a place in the final and they also will want to retain their National League title.”

In conceding 1-20 against Galway last Sunday, Armagh’s defence looked particularly brittle and given that Cork forwards such as Daniel Goulding, Fintan Goold and Paddy Kelly are right on top of their game just now, the orchard county rearguard cannot expect any respite at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Cork enjoyed a massive mid-week boost too when they beat Kerry by a whopping 2-24 to 0-8 in the Munster Under 21 final with Aidan Walsh, who is expected to be at midfield against Armagh, their inspirational skipper.

Manager Conor Counihan is not expected to confirm if Ciaran Sheehan, another who has impressed in attack lately, will be fit to take his place until just before the start but overall the Sam Maguire Cup holders will represent a massive hurdle for Armagh.

Steven McDonnell and Jamie Clarke will shoulder the bulk of Armagh’s scoring hopes but much will depend on how Kieran Toner, Charlie Vernon and Malachy Mackin fare in the central area against their giant-sized opposite numbers while Ciaran McKeever and Brendan Donaghy will need to bring more authority to their roles as defensive pillars.

With Monaghan confronted by injury worries for their vital home clash at Inniskeen against Mayo, there is now a very real danger that two Ulster sides could take their leave of Division One.

Monaghan manager Eamonn McEnaney is hopeful that experienced trio Paul Finlay, Eoin Lennon and Vinny Corey will make the cut for tomorrow’s tie while Darren Hughes has recovered from a neck injury.

McEnaney made sweeping changes to his side earlier in the year and while he has unearthed some sparkling nuggets such as David Hughes, James Turley and Chris McGuinness, it’s to his older hands that he will turn tomorrow to provide the stimulus for what he hopes will prove another season in the top bracket.

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