Armagh football boss Kieran McGeeney has warned his side that their recent Allianz League Division One victory over Monaghan counts for nothing in terms of Saturday’s Ulster Championship semi-final at Pairc Esler, Newry (4pm).
With last weekend’s quarter-final ties between Tyrone and Cavan and Derry and Donegal having triggered soaring interest in the province’s premier competition after a lukewarm start, there is now an expectation that a new peak can be scaled .
With Tyrone and Donegal due to go head-to-head at Brewster Park, Enniskillen in the second semi-final on Sunday (1.45pm), the Ulster series now looks set to captivate the entire island.
McGeeney, now in his seventh year with Armagh in a managerial capacity, is convinced that Monaghan will provide his side with “an acid test” as the Orchard County strive to capture what would be a first provincial title since 2008.
In overcoming Fermanagh in their opening Championship match, Monaghan unleashed a work rate level and sense of purpose that clearly made a huge impact on McGeeney.
“Their overall work ethic and the manner in which they blend together is probably the best I would say there is out there, outside of Dublin,” insisted McGeeney.
“I know they’re in transition but the lads they’re bringing in are dynamite players. It’s a tremendous boost when you have the type of pace that they are bringing to the squad.
“This will be the acid challenge for us and we have to ensure that the work we have been doing over the past couple of weeks on our energy levels in particular now pays dividends.”
While it is still unclear whether Conor McManus and Darren Hughes have fully recovered from the injuries they sustained in the win over Fermanagh, McGeeney believes that Monaghan have the resources to counter any problems they are confronted by in this respect.
“Obviously Monaghan will want to be at full strength and when you take the way in which they secured their place in Division One by beating Galway just before that win over Fermanagh, we will be up against a side boosted by a winning mentality,” stated McGeeney.
“We have players who haven’t played that many Championship games. The more Championship games and the more battles you have, the more hardened you become.
“You see that in players and Monaghan are a case in point. They beat Galway because they refused to give up – Galway simply could not shake them off and when they got in front against Fermanagh there was no stopping them.”
Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney will be back on duty now that the ban he incurred following his team’s breach of the collective training restrictions has expired and the battle of minds which will ensue with his opposite number McGeeney promises to be fascinating.
David McCague has proved an extremely capable stand-in for McEnaney but admits he is “more than happy” to see the latter make a return in his familiar role.