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National Football League: Rangers return to help power Armagh to safety

By John Campbell

The splendidly refurbished Athletic Grounds is now very much the nerve centre of Armagh football, but the new-look venue has still to prove a happy hunting ground for Paddy O’Rourke’s team.

In their Allianz Football League Division One campaign to date, Armagh have lost to both Dublin and Kerry at their impressive headquarters.

And their solitary victory there against Monaghan only came via an injury-time point pilfered by right-full-back Andy Mallon.

Little wonder then that manager O’Rourke has today donned his thinking cap as he prepares to confirm his line-up for Sunday’s must-win relegation battle against struggling Galway who are still pointless after five outings.

It was after his team’s defeat by Kerry (1-13 to 1-9) in the last round of games that O’Rourke observed: “We have additional quality players — our problem is that we don’t have them on the field at this point in time.”

This does not quite apply any longer. While the sorely missed Ronan Clarke continues his recovery from his troublesome Achilles injury, Armagh’s resources have now been bolstered by the return of their Crossmaglen Rangers contingent.

And in particular the availability of Jamie Clarke, Aaron Kernan and Franny Hanratty presents O’Rourke with refreshing options.

“It’s good to have these and the other Rangers boys back. They will certainly not be lacking on the score of fitness after their build-up work for the All Ireland Club final,” points out O’Rourke.

While his defence does not necessarily give cause for concern, it’s a paucity of overall finishing skills up front that tends to discomfit O’Rourke.

That’s why Clarke and Kernan could be parachuted into the side, the former at corner-forward and the latter perhaps cast in the role of playmaker.

Rory Grugan, Micheal O’Rourke, Brian Mallon, Billy Joe Padden and Malachy Mackin have not quite been able to snap up scores with any degree of regularity and it has been left to Stevie McDonnell and to a lesser extent Gareth Swift to keep Armagh afloat in their games to date.

Given the importance of Sunday’s game — defeat could have potentially disastrous consequences for his side — O’Rourke has big calls to make.

Half-backs Ciaran McKeever and Paul Duffy along with dynamic midfielder Charlie Vernon have been serving up a lesson to some of their colleagues in attack in terms of how to take scores when under pressure.

This as much as anything else has prompted O’Rourke to make it crystal clear that the forwards must front up to their responsibilities against a Galway side that, while admittedly still missing some key personnel, has failed to ignite since Tómas Ó Fláharta succeeded Joe Kernan as manager.

O’Rourke says: “Obviously we need a win in this one to assure ourselves of Division One football next year but we will only succeed if we take our scores. We cannot continue to rely so heavily on Stevie McDonnell. The scoring load has to be shared to a much greater extent.”

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