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Armagh need to power up title bid: Vernon



Pressure point: Charlie Vernon has his sights on promotion for Armagh as the Division Two race hots up

Pressure point: Charlie Vernon has his sights on promotion for Armagh as the Division Two race hots up

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Pressure point: Charlie Vernon has his sights on promotion for Armagh as the Division Two race hots up

Repeated so near yet so far episodes in terms of striving for success have prompted Armagh's vastly experienced utility player Charlie Vernon to urge caution as the side prepares to re-launch its bid for promotion from Division Two.

Their win over Tipperary on Sunday was the Orchard County's first in the current campaign - they had drawn two and lost one of their opening three games - but such is the level of competition within the second tier and the unpredictable nature of results that a flirtation with relegation can quickly be replaced with visions of life at a higher level.

So it is with Armagh as they prepare for a crunch game with reigning Ulster champions and the pre-league promotion favourites Donegal on Saturday night in Ballybofey.

Armagh's 1-15 to 0-12 win over Tipperary may have re-ignited their ambitions to ascend a new peak but Vernon believes there is much work to be done yet.

"Our manager Kieran McGeeney has high standards in terms of work-rate and we didn't make life easy for ourselves against Tipperary," reflects Vernon, who lives in Magherafelt.

"We gave ourselves plenty of work to do at times. We made a few mistakes that let Tipp back into the game but for all that I felt that we were in control for large periods.

"Yet there were times in the second-half we were not as convincing as we would like to have been."

Vernon's superb 18th minute goal was to underpin Armagh's victory while his ability to link play, cover vast expanses of ground and provide inspiration at critical stages served to cement his immense value to the side.

But this most modest and unassuming of players has his own ideas as to just why his county will travel to Donegal in the knowledge that a second win will not only garner considerable respect but will keep them in touch with the divisional pacesetters.

"Division Two is extremely competitive and it has already been shown that teams can beat each other on any given day," insists Vernon. "That's why we have to remain on our toes. We have a strong panel at the minute and there are a lot of boys pushing for starting places.

"This gives our management plenty of headaches but this is a good thing.

"We have boys who are disappointed that they are not playing - I was one of those a couple of weeks ago - so it's just a matter of keeping your head down and trying to contribute when you do get a chance."

The 'Ulster factor' is about to become more pronounced in Division Two and will ensure a nail-biting climax.

"We have Donegal on Saturday and then we will be meeting Fermanagh after that so, yes, there will be something of an Ulster Championship flavour to these games," smiles Vernon.

"Donegal have been a Division One side for a while now, they are the current provincial title-holders and Fermanagh beat us in the Ulster Championship last year but to tell you the truth our players love the way the games are coming thick and fast now."

Ryan Kennedy, Joe McElroy, Aidan Nugent, Pearse Casey and Ethan Rafferty were all summoned from the bench against Tipperary while Paul Hughes replaced calf injury victim Mark Shields in the starting line-up.

Manager McGeeney watched the match from the stand because of a period of suspension emanating from the game against Clare but along with his assistant Jim McCorry he will now have certain options over which to pour ahead of Saturday's crucial contest.

Meanwhile, Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher is taking nothing for granted as he approaches Sunday's all-important showdown with Clare at Brewster Park, Enniskillen.

If they were to come out on top and if Armagh were to get the better of Donegal, it would set the scene for a fascinating duel between the counties in the penultimate round of fixtures.

Gallagher has come in for a certain level of criticism because of what is perceived to be Fermanagh's defensive mantra but the former Donegal boss makes no apologies for his team's strategy.

Gallagher has reconstructed his team to some extent with familiar faces such as Eoin Donnelly, Seamus Quigley, Tomas Corrigan, Barry Mulrone and Ruairi Corrigan absent as Fermanagh bid to extend their impressive unbeaten run at Clare's expense.

Before the league got under way Fermanagh, despite reaching last year's Ulster final in which they were beaten by Donegal, were not viewed as potential promotion candidates in many quarters.

But Gallagher's side have upset the odds to date and having gained in confidence they look capable of completing their programme on a high.

With players such as Ultan Kelm, Ciaran Corrigan and others having already fully justified the faith which Gallagher has shown in them, the side has acquired a fresh dynamic.

After facing Clare they must take on Armagh and then Meath who face a stiff challenge against Kildare this weekend.

Belfast Telegraph