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Donegal face Crossmaglen nightmare

By John Campbell

Armagh will bridge a fifteen-year gap — and create a piece of GAA history — when they host Donegal in the first round of the All Ireland Football Championship qualifiers at Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen on Saturday week (3.30).

Not since 1995 have Armagh played a home game either in the Ulster or All Ireland Championships and they have never fulfilled a championship fixture of any hue in Crossmaglen.

It’s exactly 50 years since the Crossmaglen venue was officially opened and now the compact venue will host a capacity crowd for a clash between two sides desperately anxious to reclaim credibility following disappointing exits from the Ulster Championship.

If Donegal’s extra-time defeat by Down was garnished with gallantry and courage, then Armagh’s 12-point mauling by Monaghan was nothing less than an acute embarrassment.

No wonder Orchard County manager Paddy O’Rourke is keen to see his side come out on top this time and is playing down Armagh’s ridiculously easy win over Donegal in the last scheduled round of National League fixtures.

And while Armagh aim to mark their first championship outing at Crossmaglen with a win, one of their most famous sons is currently drawing up a tactical blueprint that he hopes will jettison the championship ambitions of another Ulster side.

Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, under pressure since his side lost to Louth, knows that nothing less than a handsome win over Antrim will placate the Lily Whites fans.

Derry, meanwhile, should have the experience and craft to see off Carlow but even with home advantage Cavan cannot feel too optimistic about their chances against resilient Wicklow.

The venues and throw-in times for the first round of the All Ireland Football Championship Qualifiers on Saturday week June 26 are as follows:

Draw: Armagh v Donegal (Crossmaglen 3.30), Carlow v Derry (Carlow 5.00), Kildare v Antrim (Newbridge 7.00), Cavan v Wicklow (Kingspan Breffni Park 7.00), Offaly v Clare (Tullamore 5.00), Longford v Mayo (Longford 7.00) London v Wexford (Ruislip) Tipperary v Meath or Laois (Date and starting time still to be confirmed).

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