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The inside track: Armagh v Meath, let's talk tactics

Gaelic Games correspondent Declan Bogue tackles all the battles in the big game both on and off the field

By Declan Bogue

It has been a full four seasons since we last saw Armagh in Croke Park, that time being ushered gently out of the Championship by Dublin. Looking at Armagh’s team, there are a few that have yet to experience the biggest stage, but maybe that is no bad thing.

Jamie Clarke v Donal Keogan

If you leave aside the natural fluidity, the athleticism and flow of Jamie Clarke's movement and concentrate on what he brings to a team, more and more reveals itself.

The skills he uses while in possession is undoubtedly the first thing you notice and as such, given that he attempts the unorthodox so much, he is a very eye-catching player. But when you consider how he lives off scraps for the most part, yet still contributes so much with his possessions, you realise that he is utterly vital to any team he plays on.

Donal Keogan marked him in the corresponding league game, in which Clarke hit 11 points, eight of them from frees, and left Meath manager Mick O'Dowd proclaiming him as unmarkable.

In recent Championship games, Keogan has been fielding at centre-back, but he may be brought inside in an attempt to curb Clarke.

Aaron Findon v Shane O’Rourke

Against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final, the Oriel men quickly decoded Armagh's kickout strategy. Whenever Philip McEvoy attempted to work something, Paudie McKenna would push up on their spare man, therefore forcing McEvoy to go long.

This might have been harmful if it was not for the fielding of Aaron Findon. In his first Championship season he has grown into his role, and alongside Stephen Harold has formed a strong partnership.

Shane O'Rourke is another who likes to station himself under a dropping ball and if both goalkeepers find themselves with their short restarts cut off, we could be in for a treat of high-fielding.

Across the ground, Findon is a cog in a machine but has yet to show signs of being a bustling runner who can take the ball into contact. As a forward by trade, O'Rourke is better at this and requires close marking.

James Morgan v Stephen Bray

Morgan has been sent to tame some of the brightest attacking talent in Ulster this season and by and large, has had a mixed time of it.

Against Eugene Keating, he frustrated the Cavan forward. He coped fine against Conor McManus in the drawn Ulster semi-final and could consider himself unlucky that a nudge on his back was not detected as McManus bagged his goal in the replay. McManus' final tally was sore on Morgan, who has since got the better of Darren McCurry.

Bray is the creative force inside for Meath and the best teams make plans for him. In the 2012 Leinster final he gave Rory O'Carroll a torrid time for 45 minutes, but a few weeks back Dublin tried something different and Mick Fitzsimmons silenced him as the Dubs strolled to a facile provincial final victory.

Armagh tactics

The game must be won without getting too concerned over the aesthetics of getting there.

Three weeks before the Championship, Armagh began working hard on a blanket defence. During the winter and spring, the emphasis was placed on getting stronger, faster and fitter, but then during the tapering-down period they applied some science.

The result has been that Armagh have become hard to break down again. Losing to Roscommon in 2013 was not the absolute shame it was made out to be, yet you could never have seen them lose the corresponding fixture between the two a fortnight ago.

With Kieran McGeeney in the backroom, they are rediscovering their mojo, but without Ciaran McKeever on the pitch, they might struggle to implement their gameplan.

They will still attack from all angles, with Andy Mallon, Mark Shields and Aaron Kernan bombing forward.

In order to gain scores, they must isolate Donal Keogan, while at the rearguard they will have to give Brendan Donaghy some protection against Bryan Menton.

Meath tactics

The game must be won without getting too concerned over the aesthetics of getting there.

So much of how Meath are getting on is tied up in their rivalry with Dublin.

Right now, the Dubs are off the charts. But then that's what they are saying about them in relation to every team.

When Seamus ‘Banty' McEnaney was in charge of Meath, they ran Dublin to three points in the 2012 Leinster final. This year the gap was 16 points, yet descriptions of Banty's time are normally always accompanied with the adjective ‘turmoil.'

Current manager Mick O'Dowd places a lot of importance on getting his match-ups right.

Last year they put a lot of effort into upsetting Stephen Cluxton's kickouts and therefore when he was forced to go long, Conor Gillespie and Brian Meade dominated.

However, Gillespie is out with a cruciate injury and Meade is returning from one.

They will go with an orthodox line-up and try to use their pace and Croke Park know-how, but they are badly caught with injuries.

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