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Armagh veteran Aidan Forker: The win over Tyrone was great, but we’ll not know if we are back on track until after the Donegal match

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Aidan Forker will go head to head with Donegal's Patrick McBrearty again on Sunday

Aidan Forker will go head to head with Donegal's Patrick McBrearty again on Sunday

©INPHO/Evan Logan

Aidan Forker will go head to head with Donegal's Patrick McBrearty again on Sunday

Armagh may be viewed as being in a rather enviable position as Sunday’s second round All-Ireland football qualifier against Donegal looms.

After all, they are just 70 -plus minutes away from a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals with their confidence significantly bolstered by that stunning six-point victory over reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions Tyrone last weekend.

But there is not the slightest element of complacency within the orchard county camp — and with good reason.

Back in February with just two rounds of the Allianz League gone, Armagh had already garnered four points at the expense of Dublin and Tyrone no less and optimism that a possible league title could land on the mat was beginning to take root.

But when inconsistency reared its ugly head, Kieran McGeeney’s men were ultimately forced to have to settle for the retention of their place in Division One.

Right now, Armagh find themselves in a somewhat similar position. The manner in which they clinically demolished Tyrone has sparked an escalation of goodwill and fervour that has engulfed the county ahead of what will be their third meeting with Donegal this year with Declan Bonner’s men having won the two previous encounters.

But with four players — the Mackin brothers Connaire and Ciaran, Tiernan Kelly and Niall Grimley — set to miss the game and Donegal keen to atone for their taming by Derry in the Ulster final, the enormity of the task facing the orchard county is brought into sharp perspective.

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Armagh’s new midfield pairing of Stephen Sheridan and Ben Crealey will undergo another stiff examination, Rory Grugan’s intelligent probing and Rian O’Neill’s versatility will come under close scrutiny and goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty will undoubtedly be in the full glare of the spotlight following his spectacular contribution against the Red Hands.

When Armagh flattered to deceive in the League , it was midfield ace Sheridan who at that time helped keep feet rooted to the ground. McGeeney’s men were virtually spoiled for choice at midfield then, competition for places across the team was ferocious and key personnel were making their presence felt.

“If you want to take your foot off the gas in training, somebody will come in and take your spot,” declared Sheridan at the time. ” That’s what we’re trying to build, and if you’re not up to the task, it’s the next man in to do the job. We’re trying to build a good team culture.”

The spirit and commitment of the side are such now, though, that getting the better of Donegal is more a frenetic pursuit of collective pride rather than a mere sporting result.

The disappointing Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal and the recent spate of injuries may have impacted on Armagh but not to the extent that morale has suffered.

If Sheridan again underlines the resolve and desire within the side, then long-serving defender Aidan Forker makes it even more abundantly clear that nothing short of victory will suffice on Sunday.

“It was great to get over Tyrone because we knew that, as reigning All-Ireland champions, they would be a big obstacle,” points out the Maghery clubman.

“But we know that Donegal will be very keen to make up for that loss to Derry in the Championship so we must be on our toes.

“We chipped away at our scores against Tyrone. We had looked at the importance of making sure we took our scores in any purple patch we might have because that’s something we didn’t do against Donegal but which we must do on Sunday. The win over Tyrone has given us momentum but we’ll not know if we’re back on track until we see where we are on Sunday.”


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