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Second chance for big counties

By Declan Bogue

The long road of the qualifiers yawns open for Armagh once again after their typically-disappointing Ulster Championship performance in defeat to Fermanagh, representing four years of Kieran McGeeney's management and no wins in his own province.

They get a chance to make amends in the familiar surroundings of Cusack Park in Mullingar. Last year Armagh showed up there for a qualifier round two game and despite a rash of Westmeath wides in the second half, held on by their fingertips and were rewarded with a late Ethan Rafferty goal to make it through.

The two sides actually met each other in the first weekend of February in the National League Division Three, where the home side were hopelessly outclassed on a 1-11 to 2-17 scoreline. Despite their no-show in Enniskillen, Armagh are installed as warm favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers.

This Saturday, Derry put their unbeaten record in Championship football at Owenbeg on the line when Kildare roll in for their qualifiers opener.

It is a curious record that the Oak Leafers have not lost in the venue just outside Dungiven and lends further credence to those that would wish them to abandon their base in Celtic Park. They have beaten Sligo, Wexford, Meath and Louth since they began staging games there but they are faced with a wounded animal.

With several regulars back from a disastrous league campaign when they dropped to the basement league, Derry put up a credible performance against Donegal in the Ulster quarter-final.

Manager Damian McErlain wasn't too disappointed with the loss, emphasising the importance of chalking up a few wins in the qualifiers, stating: "Hopefully we'll not be so sluggish the next time out, just because we've had the virtue of playing at this level and Championship pace with the heat and all the rest under the belt."

Belfast Telegraph


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