National Football League: Down looking to Armagh for big favour
Down will lock horns with neighbours Armagh next month in what is regarded as the plum tie in the first round of the Ulster Senior Football Championship.
But on Sunday the Mournemen will be keeping their fingers crossed that their Orchard County rivals can do them a big favour in the Allianz Football League.
Should Down, who are on seven points, repeat their 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final triumph over Kerry and Armagh prove superior to Cork, then James McCartan’s side will have booked their place in the league final against Dublin and Paddy O’Rourke’s men will have extended their tenure in the top bracket by another year at least.
But Cork — who are on eight points, the same total as Kerry — are best-placed to reach the final as they beat the Kingdom in the opening round of games and this result would weigh in their favour according to the competition’s tiebreaker rules.
However there is many a slip ’twixt cup and lip and no one knows this better than the pragmatic McCartan who has made an immense impact since taking over the Down reins from Ross Carr at the end of 2009.
“Dublin asked a whole load of different questions that other teams had not asked of us during the league,” points out McCartan in recalling last Saturday’s defeat to Pat Gilroy’s side.
“Now we have to go and face a Kerry side that has run into a rich vein of form and which appears to have interesting selection options.
No one is taking anything for granted, that’s for sure.”
Down’s work-rate against the Dubs and their ability to stay the course were admirable but McCartan knows that they will need to up their performance even more against Jack O’Connor’s side.
Martin Clarke will again have a key role while Benny Coulter, Paul McComiskey and Mark Poland will be important cogs in their attack with Kalum King and Peter Fitzpatrick forming the midfield.
Kerry manager O’Connor made several changes to his side for last Sunday’s win over Monaghan and has further amended his line-up for Down’s visit now that David Moran will miss the rest of the season because of a serious cruciate ligament injury.
And while Down maintain their bid to defy the odds and book a place in the final, Armagh face a gigantic task against a Cork side still smarting from their defeat against Mayo last Sunday.
Their manager Conor Counihan was gracious afterwards, intimating that the better side had won, but he is unlikely to be charitably disposed towards Armagh who will be fighting for their Division One lives at Pairc Ui Caoimh.
Daniel Goulding, perhaps the best finisher in the country right now, represents a huge threat to Armagh’s chances of staying up while Pearse O’Neill, Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly also constitute a danger to the Orchard County.
Armagh boss O’Rourke admits that this will be “a championship battle in everything but name.”
He has brought back the Crossmaglen Rangers contingent and bulked up his attack for a do or die showdown with the Leesiders.
Skipper Steven McDonnell has been Armagh’s prime source of scores during the competition to date.
Little wonder then that O’Rourke and his Down counterpart McCartan are hoping that he can deliver the goods again on Sunday — but for rather different reasons.