Armagh better prepared for Super 8s mission: McCorry
It would be inadvisable to mention within earshot of Armagh assistant manager Jim McCorry that tomorrow night's eagerly-awaited confrontation with Tyrone is 'only' the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final.
Far from viewing the match as the conclusion to a January warm-up spell, the straight-talking McCorry sees it in a rather different context.
"In our two most recent games we have played and beaten Monaghan and Donegal," pointed out McCorry.
"And although those sides - and us - were not quite at full strength, nevertheless we see these games in particular, as well of course as this final against Tyrone, as crucial in our preparations for our first league game against Kildare on Sunday week.
"Indeed, this match is going to be another step up for us before the league and of course this is the whole objective of playing as many games as you can get in the McKenna Cup."
With both Armagh and Tyrone having remained unbeaten in the competition to date, there will be a decided competitive edge to the renewal of their rivalry which provided compelling drama during the Noughties in particular.
And while McCorry's focus will switch sharply to the league following tomorrow night's game - which must be played to a finish - he makes no bones about what he feels should be the Orchard County's prime target this year.
"Last year Roscommon beat us in the last round of the qualifiers and entered the Super 8s," reflected McCorry. "The one thing I will say about that is that we had a lot of our stronger players missing at that time. I don't think we were a proper test for Roscommon but I think things will be different this year.
"Like all teams, we are targeting the Super 8s again and this time round we think we are in a better position to do so. The players who have come back in for us, including Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell, the two O'Neills and James Morgan, give us added depth.
"We also hope to have players such as Ethan Rafferty and Paul Hughes back from injury.
"If we have all these players on board and we get a fairly injury-free run, I think we can compete well in the Super 8s."
This will be only the second year in which this particular format will be employed at the quarter-finals stage of the All-Ireland Championship but McCorry is a passionate advocate of the concept as he feels the three-game template provides a forensic test of teams' capabilities.
"The Super 8s is where you want to be. This is now the sharp edge of Gaelic football where you can assess where you are at and truly gauge if you have what it takes to mount a meaningful challenge to the Dublins, Kerrys and Mayos," he said.
With players such as Ryan Kennedy, Connaire Mackin, Gregory McCabe, Jarlath Og Burns, Jack Grugan and Rian O'Neill having benefited from game time in the McKenna Cup to date, McCorry is hopeful that Armagh will now be able to rise to more formidable challenges, beginning with tomorrow's assignment against Mickey Harte's side which will be missing its University of Ulster contingent.
"The gap between the elite and some of the rest of the teams is narrowing, although the chasing pack is now increasing with teams which have had good under-age structures now beginning to come through at senior level," added McCorry.
"Obviously Dublin are out in front overall and while we would all like to overtake them, we have to take satisfaction from the fact that we are making progress over a period of time and hopefully we will go on doing this.
"You want to be playing against the best players so that you can improve and go forward and we see this game as another big test in this process.
"The fact that we now have a greater range of players coming back is a big help. We have players who gained considerable experience last year, people like Patrick Burns, Connaire Mackin, Gregory McCabe and Ryan Kennedy, and there are others who are very keen to prove themselves.
"I think this is a big plus for us and I also believe it to be important that we have cover in all positions. Physique is a key element at inter-county level now as we all know and if you have quality players who are supremely fit then you are well armed.
"The main thing is that we try to keep the players injury-free if we can. And if we can maintain our winning mentality that would be great because coming out on top in games sustains morale, drives competition for places and encourages supporters."
While McCorry believes that an Armagh victory over Tyrone tomorrow night would be a further boost , he is convinced that consistency in the league is essential if the side is to be a force in the championship.
"You would have to say that although we lost to Roscommon in the qualifiers last year, our biggest disappointment was that defeat to Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship," states McCorry.