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Armagh have the quality to beat Down in derby clash: McKeever

 

Flashback: Ciaran McKeever in action for Armagh during their last Ulster Championship win in 2014
Flashback: Ciaran McKeever in action for Armagh during their last Ulster Championship win in 2014
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Armagh have to go back five years for their last victory in an Ulster senior football championship match.

That was against Cavan (1-12 to 0-9) in 2014 and a further three years to recall their last championship victory over Down (1-15 to 1-10).

Little wonder then that apprehension hangs heavily in the air as manager Kieran McGeeney begins the countdown in earnest to his team's forthcoming meeting with Paddy Tally's side in what will be the third successive derby tie on this year's mouth-watering championship menu.

With Tyrone v Derry setting the ball rolling and then deadly rivals Cavan and Monaghan going head to head, the renewal of hostilities between the orchard county and their Mourne neighbours is expected to bring the competition to boiling point.

And already the marked fervour to see Armagh rekindle the dominance they shared with Tyrone in the Noughties abounds with former players Ciaran McKeever, Diarmuid Marsden, Oisin McConville and Justin McNulty leading the way in providing a positive backdrop against which their county can thrive.

McKeever led Armagh to the 2004 All-Ireland Under 21 title and having given over a decade of service at senior level, he is in his first season as Armagh minor boss.

"A couple of years ago Armagh played Down and we were being talked up but we lost so you have to be wary this time round," warns 35-year-old McKeever.

"I think everyone in Armagh would agree that this is going to be a decidedly tough task. I believe, though, this Armagh squad has developed over the past two years and they are in a good position to beat Down."

His optimism is shared by Marsden and McConville who, like many former Armagh players, rarely miss a game.

"I believe the talent is there but it's about bringing your 'A' game to the table on the day," points out Marsden.

McConville, who scored Armagh's all-important goal in the 2002 All-Ireland final win over Kerry, not surprisingly believes that goals could be crucial against Down.

"Goals are important at all levels but they can be absolutely crucial in the white heat of championship battle," insists McConville.

"If you can put the ball in the back of the opposition net, it gives your side a tremendous lift. I think Armagh have players like Jamie Clarke, Rory Grugan and Rian O'Neill who can plunder goals."

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