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National League: Armagh prepare for glamour clash with Dublin

Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke is far from pressing the panic button even though his team’s morale has been dealt a savage blow following their unexpected capitulation to lowly St Mary’s on Wednesday night.

Indeed, O’Rourke will now go into next Saturday’s glamour National League opener against Dublin at the newly refurbished Athletic Grounds under rather more pressure than had been anticipated.

The match will mark the formal re-opening of the Armagh city venue and its 20,000 capacity is expected to be taxed for the occasion especially as Dublin will almost certainly be bringing a large travelling support.

With the Artane Boys Band coming to lend a carnival air to the proceedings and an inter-denominational Service planned, O’Rourke does not want it to rain on Armagh’s parade.

“Our performance against St Mary’s on Wednesday night was very disappointing and we will need to absorb lessons from that. Our game against Dublin will be a big event from every perspective and it’s important that we produce a display that will do justice to the occasion,” insists the former Down All Ireland winning skipper.

But he could be without several of his established frontline troops for the battle with the Dubs, a match that marks Armagh’s return to Division One in the league.

Paul Hearty, Aaron Kernan and Jamie Clarke, all of whom would normally be certain starters, are involved in Crossmaglen’s All Ireland Club semi-final preparations, while Brian Mallon, Ciaran McKeever and Rory Grugan are currently battling against injuries and long-term absentee Ronan Clarke has yet to return to action.

But the return of Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy and Finian Moriarty will offer encouragement to O’Rourke while former Mayo ace Billy Joe Padden and John Murtagh, who played for New York last year, are also in the frame for starting berths.

“The players are aware of the importance of this game and the sense of occasion that will prevail,” says O’Rourke.

“There will be points and pride in this game and that’s why we want to be on our toes to face the challenge,” adds O’Rourke.

The restoration of Mallon, Moriarty and Donaghy to the defence should certainly enhance Armagh’s ability to curb a Dublin attack in which Bernard Brogan is capable of wreaking havoc should he receive a liberal supply of the ball.

Grugan sustained a shoulder injury against St Mary’s for which he is currently receiving treatment but he is expected to be fit for the game and this will be a relief to O’Rourke who has been impressed by the youngster’s subtle finishing skills.

Ciaran McKeever has not played for Armagh this year yet but insists that he will be ready to face Pat Gilroy’s side.

“This is one match we want to win,” says McKeever.

“Dublin beat us in the All Ireland Championship last year and we felt that we allowed that match to slip away from us.

“There will be a huge crowd in the Athletic Grounds next Saturday night and we want to put on a performance that will please our followers.”

Belfast Telegraph

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