Ulster managers seek redemption in qualifiers
Two Ulster team bosses will launch a drive for fresh credibility and another will mount a major personal survival mission when the first round of the All Ireland Football Qualifiers is staged on Saturday.
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke, in tandem with his Derry counterpart Damian Cassidy, will bid for redemption following tame Ulster Championship exits. But Cavan’s beleaguered Tommy Carr will now walk the plank in the sudden-death environment of the Qualifiers.
O’Rourke has done enough to underpin his tenure now that his side will play Division One football next year, but that 12-point Ulster quarter-final mauling by Monaghan clearly renders the assignment against Donegal at Crossmaglen a must-win game.
And while suggestions continue to ferment that spirit is not what it should be in the Derry camp, particularly in the wake of that Ulster Championship preliminary round defeat by Armagh, manager Cassidy knows that an anticipated victory over lowly Carlow will offer him what could prove to be an invaluable breathing space in which to hone morale.
But for the oppressed Carr, defeat at the hands of Mick O’Dwyer’s Wicklow would almost certainly result in his departure.
Carr may somehow have managed to cling onto his Breffni county role despite a ‘no confidence’ vote by club delegates toward the end of last year but after the manner in which his side laboured through Division Three of the league before losing to Fermanagh in their Ulster quarter-final an early exit from the Qualifiers would almost certainly precipitate his dismissal.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, fronts up to a Donegal side without the suspended Brian Mallon and in the knowledge that the normally frugal Armagh rearguard was glaringly exposed Monaghan.
While Crossmaglen may still be regarded as a fortress for the orchard county, it is worth keeping this year’s National League displays there in context.
The Westmeath team they defeated were little short of woeful, Kildare were only marginally better and O’Rourke’s men then surrendered a double-figure scoreboard advantage against Tipperary before scraping through.
But while O’Rourke, Cassidy and particularly Carr seek a much-needed restoration of morale, Antrim manager Liam Bradley will take his side to face Kildare conscious that their enterprising second-half performance against Tyrone in the Ulster Championship provides the basis for optimism.
Yet if the Saffrons prevail, another Ulster man, Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney, could find himself in the firing line.
Last year the Lily Whites went close to disrupting Dublin’s dominance of the Leinster championship before they lost to Tyrone (0-16 to 1-11) but their recent defeat by Louth in the Leinster championship has now served to heap extra pressure on McGeeney.