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This is more than a dream for Orchard men

By Paddy McKeever

Without belief as a sportsman, the result is a formality, and not a favourable one.

Belief operates at various levels within the team environment. It is created and nurtured via every aspect and personnel in the squad. It is not garnered by the mere uttering of the word, but is instilled over time; through shared experiences and positive leadership.

To believe is to trust. Trust in your ability first and foremost, trust in team-mates' ability, have faith in the management and tactics employed, and an unwavering loyalty to those core principles will ultimately pay dividends.

Trust is most needed when pressure is at its greatest. That will be the closing quarter of this game, when Armagh and Monaghan will decide their fate. In this case, it would appear Monaghan hold all the aces.

Monaghan have grown and matured over the years, but under Malachy O'Rourke's tutelage, this is a team with a clearly-defined plan, a trust and adherence to it at all levels, that has been forged in darker times by its seasoned leaders. Monaghan, just as Armagh of old, quite frankly were fed up playing second best within their provi This is more than a dream for Orchard mennce.

There was a fear that after the exploits of last year and an Ulster final breakthrough, that their appetite for further glory would have been sated somewhat. A few of their battle hardened veterans could quite deservedly have been put out to grass, but only one in Tommy Freeman did.

The manner of their victory over Donegal in the Division Two final, and a first for this generation of players over Tyrone, illustrates that their desire burns bright.

It is also apparent that Monaghan's leaders are on borrowed time. While there has been an influx of youth that have bought into that psyche, a serious void will be left when Messrs Clerkin, Corey, Mone, Finlay et al depart the scene.

The league fixture between these two this year proved to be an non-entity as far as being an indicator as to where the respective teams were in their preparations for the Championship.

If anything, Armagh can learn more from that encounter, a 10-point defeat at home. It would appear that on the face of the Cavan result, lessons have been learnt.

Paul Grimley and Armagh's strategy against Cavan was not just a change of tact for that occasion. It was borne out of both league games against Monaghan and Donegal.

Armagh were severely depleted throughout the league, so it would appear the management thought it futile to trial a new system under the watchful eye of possible future opponents. A risky strategy, but Armagh's victory over Cavan was built upon a solid defensive platform.

It was obvious this has been rehearsed and drilled extensively. The question is, can Armagh's system stand up in the white heat of a battle in Clones, against a team that has proven their mettle at close quarters? The truth of the Cavan result was that their challenge was nigh over before the band left the field!

For this game, Armagh will have to be more efficient in front of goal. While it's encouraging that chances are being created, Armagh squandered a plethora of scoring opportunities.

Indeed, it was Monaghan's accuracy in the league fixture that stood in stark contrast to Armagh's forward play. A return of 0-10 will not suffice here.

But like Monaghan, Armagh have attacking players that can and will open gaps from deeper positions and from wide. This was another of the pleasing aspects of the tactical u-turn.

Both teams have the ability to launch attacks from every part of the pitch, but Monaghan appear to have the edge when it comes to getting their front two on the ball in scoring positions. I've been extremely impressed with Kieran Hughes; his presence, his work rate and link play with Conor McManus is key to Monaghan's attacking play.

He is a genuine ball winner and while his shot selection and execution can be a little erratic at times, I fear he could cut loose some day.

With suspensions for Andy Mallon, Kieran Toner and Brendan Donaghy likely to stick, Armagh's stock plummets.

Donaghy's experience and tenacity in defence, Mallon's energy, and Toner's presence and quiet authority around the middle third will be sorely missed. This is further exacerbated with the absence of Caolan Rafferty, out with a broken hand. He has been very impressive this year, one of the few positive points from the league campaign. His athleticism and workrate would have been a weapon against Monaghan.

I know both Aaron and Tony Kernan would have been disappointed not to start the last day, and with a small readjustment at the back, Aaron should return at number five, with Tony along the 'forty'.

I'm slightly worried at Toner's absence as he has a genuine Championship pedigree and would relish the battle around the middle with Hughes, Lennon and Clerkin (I think all three will play).

Aaron Findon had a great debut and is likely to be joined by Ethan Rafferty or Stephen Harold, all of whom will represent Armagh for many years to come, but they have limited experience as a potential senior pairing.

So, Monaghan are the form team, beating Donegal in Croke Park and Tyrone in Clones, while Armagh gog relegated and are without four certain starters.

The reigning Ulster champions have the edge in experience and physicality, that coupled with a more potent inside line tends to restrict Armagh fans to a mere glimmer of hope.

Welcome to the Ulster Championship, a local derby and all that is beautiful and enthralling about sport; the uncertainty, improbability, the unpredictability.

Footballers, sportsmen, winners don't deal in the sentiment of hope, though, they must have an unyielding belief that winning is attainable if performance levels are achieved.

And as pundits and supporters stack the odds firmly against Armagh tonight, the 'footballer' inside me firmly believes this result is not a stretch too far for this current Armagh team.

You may think I'm a dreamer ...

Paddy McKeever won the All-Ireland title with Armagh in 2002

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