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McGeeney is revitalising Armagh stars: Gallagher

By John Campbell

Rory Gallagher has watched his native Fermanagh win promotion to Division Two of the Allianz League and claim a place in the Ulster Championship semi-finals against Monaghan.

And he has looked on in admiration, too, as the Erne County hurlers brought back the Lory Meagher Cup from Croke Park last weekend.

Now, though, Gallagher is anxious to take another step along his own route to what he hopes will be success when the Donegal side he manages confront Armagh on Sunday.

He makes it abundantly clear that two factors dominate his thinking in advance of the tie - the Athletic Grounds and Kieran McGeeney.

Gallagher believes that the atmosphere in the stadium will be "electric" and this could prove a boost to the home side.

"I was at an Armagh versus Tyrone game in the Athletic Grounds a couple of years ago and there was an unbelievable atmosphere. I think it will simply be electric there on Sunday," maintained Gallagher.

And he is convinced that McGeeney's presence on the touchline will galvanise Armagh, as will the fact that they only lost to Donegal by a solitary point in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.

"Kieran is in his first year as manager. He is an iconic figure in Armagh and he is the team boss the Armagh public have wanted for a long time. And I think that is going to bring out the best in them on Sunday," predicted Gallagher.

As he has done since taking over from Jim McGuinness last Autumn, the former Fermanagh star forward has taken to the highways and byways running his eye over Donegal's various opponents at every opportunity. That of course includes Armagh.

"I saw them in the Division Three league final against Fermanagh. They never had a full team out in the league as they looked at a lot of players during the competition," pointed out Gallagher.

"They came through Division Three very comfortably and there is no doubt they were the best team in that league. They are going to be a huge challenge and it is one that we are really looking forward to. The fact that they are at home could weigh heavily in their favour."

Gallagher, who remains hopeful that Martin McElhinney will have recovered fully from a viral infection in advance of Sunday's contest, believes that McGeeney's achievements as a player provide the spur for the Armagh side to follow in his footsteps.

"His players have obviously bought into this and it has to be said that he has a young side," added Gallagher.

Mutual admiration, indeed, is very much in vogue in the build-up as McGeeney himself lavishes praise on Donegal both on an individual and collective basis.

"Everywhere you look in their team, you see quality players," insisted the Armagh boss.

"The McGee brothers are particularly very sound in defence and Frank McGlynn is very good at breaking the gain line.

"Then you have people like Neil Gallagher, Odhran MacNiallais and Martin McElhinney in the middle third of the park and in Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty and Colm McFadden they have top-class forwards."

McGeeney was at the core of the Armagh side that regularly inflicted heartbreak on Donegal in both the Ulster Championship and All-Ireland Qualifiers, particularly from 2004 until 2010, and memories are still raw in the north-west county.

But McGeeney rubbishes the theory that his county's track record against Donegal and the performance of his team in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final gives them any measure of a head start for Sunday's tie.

"The biggest challenge for us is that we are stepping up from Division Three to play against a team that have been holding their own in Division One," stressed McGeeney.

"We know that if we play well we are capable of competing with them but on the other hand they can maybe compete without going to the same level."

Ulster SFC: Athletic Grounds, Sunday 2.00pm (BBC2)



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