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Armagh feel heat ahead of Tipp crunch

Pressure point: Jemar Hall and Kieran McGeeney are primed for Armagh’s must-win tie against Tipperary
Pressure point: Jemar Hall and Kieran McGeeney are primed for Armagh’s must-win tie against Tipperary
John Campbell

By John Campbell

When Armagh met Tipperary two years ago in a vital Allianz Football League Division Three tie at the Athletic Grounds, it proved a particularly sobering experience for the home side.

A three-goal blast from the very much in-form Michael Quinlivan ultimately consigned the Orchard county to another year in the lower tier and saw Tipperary acquire fresh status in Division Two.

It was that game more than any other which perhaps convinced Armagh that gaining promotion would be anything but straightforward.

As things turned out, their wait was delayed by a year and now that they are ensconced in Division Two, manager Kieran McGeeney is determined that they should remain there.

But with his side having collected just two points out of a possible six to date, and Tipperary their opponents once again at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, there are fears that the Munster side could considerably add to their hosts' current worries.

In their opening league games, Armagh drew with Kildare and Clare before falling to Meath in their most recent outing.

And it's this indifferent form which persuades McGeeney that Sunday's game has now assumed considerable importance in his team's efforts to protect their current status.

"While we lost to Meath, I felt we played some good football after the break but we had left ourselves too much to do when we trailed by 1-9 to 0-3 at the break," admits McGeeney. "I thought we showed a lot of courage and effort to get back into the game but they got a late goal which put a gloss on the final score."

McGeeney is taking comfort from the fact that players such as Jemar Hall, Ryan Kenny and Rian O'Neill have come to the fore within his side of late.

Hall in particular has been captivating Armagh fans with his blistering pace, scoring touch and also his courage.

"I think in the game against Clare in particular he showed how well he has come on," reflects McGeeney.

"He scored a point and I don't know why he didn't get a free before he put the ball over the bar because he appeared to have been impeded a couple of times, but we were happy to take the score just the same."

Just how tight the promotion race in Division Two is can be gauged from the fact that while Tipperary are nominally in fifth place, they are still only a point behind joint pacesetters Meath, Fermanagh and Donegal.

While 2017 hero Quinlivan is unavailable through injury for Sunday's renewal of hostilities with Armagh, Tipperary have already shown that they are not short on quality.

Steven O'Brien, the experienced Brian Fox and Liam Casey are very much on song, while Liam McGrath and Philip Austin are a duo who could pose serious problems for McGeeney's men.

"I can't fault the lads for work-rate but we don't want to find ourselves chasing the game on Sunday, as was the case against Meath," says manager McGeeney.

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