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Aaron Kernan hails Kieran McGeeney’s impact on Armagh’s frugal defence as they edge towards League final

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Top man: David Clifford will be a big threat to Armagh on Sunday. Credit: INPHO/Ben Brady

Top man: David Clifford will be a big threat to Armagh on Sunday. Credit: INPHO/Ben Brady

©INPHO/Ben Brady

Top man: David Clifford will be a big threat to Armagh on Sunday. Credit: INPHO/Ben Brady

Armagh may be within striking distance of a place in the Allianz Football League final but former defender Aaron Kernan sounds a sharp warning ahead of Sunday’s eagerly-awaited clash with Kerry at the Athletic Grounds (2pm).

The Orchard county has conceded just one goal in five matches and displayed a level of defensive cohesion which has frustrated most of their opponents. But Kernan, who called time on his inter-county career in 2014 and has won a shoal of county, provincial and All-Ireland honours with Crossmaglen Rangers, is convinced that Jack O’Connor’s side will bring “a voracious appetite” to the table.

“There is no doubt that the whole talk around the country is about how well Kerry are going, how they are set up, how they don’t concede much,” says Kernan. “And when you look at the forwards they have David Clifford, Sean O’Shea, Paul Geaney and the rest — you know you are coming up against the very best.

“Like Armagh, they have scored seven goals and conceded one. But they are always challenging themselves and you can bet your life on it that they will show a voracious appetite on Sunday. The Kingdom will certainly ask big questions in this set-to, I feel.”

Yet while Kernan is prepared to laud Kerry boss Jack O’Connor for what he has achieved since taking over, he pinpoints what he views as the “massive progress” that Armagh have made under Kieran McGeeney.

“If you go back to last year and look at the four goals we conceded in the first-half of the match with Monaghan in the Ulster Championship and how Michael Langan ran through untouched to score a goal against us for Donegal, you begin to appreciate just how rigid the Armagh defence has now become,” stresses Kernan.

“Even up until quite recently, players had been so obsessed with marking their own man that they had become oblivious to the danger that might have been coming from another quarter but Kieran has tightened things up to such an extent that no one is left exposed and, while every man knows his job, the defence as a unit could hardly be an awful lot tighter.

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“Obviously the Kerry attack is on fire right now but I think that Kieran has got the Armagh defence to such a level that they will not concede anything easily. You look at James Morgan coming in against Kildare and holding Daniel Flynn, one of the best forwards in the country, to just a point what does that tell you?”

“I think Armagh have made massive progress since last year and they are still honing their game even further.”

McGeeney’s bold decision to convert Ethan Rafferty from a midfield cog to goalkeeper and his astute deployment of Stefan Campbell as a super sub have underlined his tactical nous to such an extent that certain players are carving out new careers for themselves.

“The fact that some players have adapted to new roles is a bonus and obviously this has stepped up the competition for starting places but that’s the way Kieran wants it,” states Kernan.

The fact that Armagh appear to have secured their place in Division One at least for another term and gained a fresh ration of confidence heading into the Ulster Championship has triggered a tidal wave of interest within the county according to Kernan.

“There is no tougher test than facing Kerry but ask the players and they’ll tell you this is where they want to be,” he adds. “We haven’t hosted Kerry in Armagh for years and everyone will want to be there. And why wouldn’t they if you’re getting the chance to see the best, you would want to take it.”


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