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Declan Bogue: Improving Armagh should continue their charge towards the Super 8s

By Declan Bogue

For the second year in a row, Armagh are patiently making their way back into the light after being humbled in Ulster and host Clare today.

Last year it was Down that delivered the knockout blow to Kieran McGeeney's men in Newry, the manager observing matters from behind the glass of the Pairc Esler changing rooms as he was serving a sideline ban, selector John Toal the man on the line as the great expectations were reduced to rubble.

What you need in the qualifiers is a nice draw, and they got that in the first round as they sliced through injury-decimated Fermanagh by nine points.

Westmeath were up next on a scorching hot evening in Mullingar, and despite the home side missing a hatful, Armagh survived courtesy of a late Ethan Rafferty goal making things more comfortable than they should have been.

It was in the third round that they really showed what this team is capable of as they went down to Semple Stadium and saw off Tipperary, no mean feat indeed, and things got even better in the next round when Jamie Clarke tortured Kildare on the way to a win. That the season ended with a heavy defeat to Tyrone should not have detracted from the good work of that run.

But Armagh are without Clarke now and it shows. Wretched against Fermanagh in Brewster Park, manager McGeeney seemed to believe that a win over a woefully underprepared Westmeath in the first round of the qualifiers earlier this month had in some way answered their critics.

Selector Jim McCorry agreed with that assessment, insisting this week: "We drew a line under that Fermanagh match very quickly and moved on. It was a difficult evening, no doubt about it, but we have a few wins in a row now."

If things were different and you were able to meet former opposition again, a possible rematch with Fermanagh in round four would have provided serious motivation.

Any assessment of McGeeney's management career cannot overlook his rather poor record in the provinces - he has yet to win an Ulster Championship game after four attempts - with his success in the backdoor, going back to his years with Kildare.

He has taken charge for 53 Championship games and won 31 times.

However, only two of those teams have been Division One opponents, and both of those wins came in 2010 when they reached the All-Ireland semi-final.

After finishing third in Division Two of the league, Clare fell to a serious beating in the Munster Championship to Kerry.

While they have some recognisable figures such as the magnificent midfield pairing of Gary Brennan and Cathal O'Connor, there are deficiencies in defence.

Despite losing Rafferty to a shoulder injury, Armagh should progress to round four.

One team almost certain to join them are Monaghan.

Malachy O'Rourke's men were devastated to have been beaten in the Ulster Championship having done the hard work of taking care of Tyrone in Healy Park.

However, they minced Waterford last weekend on the sunny south east, running up 5-21 in the process.

What struck them about the game was just how many Monaghan fans had made the long journey. Some people just don't lose the faith.

They have been paired with Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon, a side that won only their third All-Ireland qualifier last weekend when they overcame a big Louth lead.

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