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Injury-hit Armagh staying calm as they plan to defy odds and overcome Galway test to secure All-Ireland semi-final spot


Armagh’s Stefan Campbell and manager Kieran McGeeney celebrate last Sunday's win

Armagh’s Stefan Campbell and manager Kieran McGeeney celebrate last Sunday's win

©INPHO/James Crombie

Armagh’s Stefan Campbell and manager Kieran McGeeney celebrate last Sunday's win

If fortune favours the brave, the Armagh management duo of Kieran McGeeney and Kieran Donaghy have justification for hoping that will continue to prove the case as their squad step up preparations for their All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway at Croke Park on Sunday week.

In the 13-year spell spanning his managerial stints with Kildare and the Orchard county, it is doubtful if McGeeney has faced into the plethora of demanding selection decisions which have been his lot of late.

In plumping for Ethan Rafferty ahead of Blaine Hughes for the goalkeeping berth, McGeeney was prepared to sacrifice a strong outfield player but when it came to replacing Tiernan Kelly, Niall Grimley and Ciaran Mackin at one fell swoop because of injuries, the line-up underwent something of a transformation.

And when it was disclosed at the eleventh hour last Sunday that Connaire Mackin, who had been removed from the playing arena on a stretcher just a week previously against Tyrone, would replace Conor O’Neill in the defence, there was relief all round in anticipation that the former had regained full fitness.

But Mackin failed a fitness test immediately prior to the game, which led to O’Neill being drafted in again with Stefan Campbell, man of the match against Tyrone in his first starting role for some time, again getting the nod at centre-half-forward.

Yet despite the problems with which they have been confronted within a three-week period, McGeeney and Donaghy have remained calm and strongly focused as they strive to steer Armagh into the All-Ireland semi-finals.

There have been no complaints, no wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth. Instead, just a quiet acceptance of the vagaries of sport.

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As his team prepare to confront a Galway side that has gained promotion from Division Two and which has prospered under manager Pauric Joyce, the Armagh pair remain hopeful that their playing resources will be boosted in advance of the contest.

With Jason Duffy and Aidan Nugent having turned in stellar performances up front against Donegal and Conor Turbitt responding with two spectacular points when he was summoned from the bench, Armagh appear to have the forward resources to trouble the Tribesmen’s rearguard.

Indeed, their attack has looked particularly sharp in the wins over Tyrone and Donegal, and the overall spread of scorers within the side has been a source of comfort to McGeeney and his management team.

There were fears that Donegal were about to take a firm grip on last Sunday’s game when they responded to Armagh’s first-minute goal in robust fashion but, prior to th e interval, the home side had regained control of the contest which they maintained until the final whistle to secure safe passage to the next round.

But the Orchard county are not reading too much into this, conscious that the Galway attack has been in form of late and, with Shane Walsh in particular likely to pose a big threat, Armagh will have their guard up.

“We are working very hard right now because we know we will be coming up against the cream of the crop,” insists assistant manager Donaghy.

"I think we got the toughest draw we could get in having to meet Tyrone and Donegal and now Galway will be waiting for us at Croke Park.

“This is as difficult as it can get. Last Sunday in particular the crowd in the Athletic Grounds inspired the players and helped them to build up our total of 3-17.

"Now we will be looking for those same supporters to get behind the lads in Croke Park.

"We will certainly need all the encouragement we can get and we hope to repay the fans by turning in another winning performance.”

If Donaghy’s commitment to Armagh is unwavering, then his faith in manager McGeeney is absolute.

“He has always been very open to our ideas and stuff that we're looking at,” he explains.

"I ask him for feedback all the time and he's very honest.

"That in essence is what I want as someone who's trying to learn from him and learn the ropes of what a coach and selector can bring to a group.

"So yeah, he's just brilliant to deal with."

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