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Ulster rivals won't be giving much away ahead of Championship tie

By Declan Bogue

The action may be slowing down somewhat, but the stakes are rising all the time for the three remaining Ulster sides to close out their league accounts.

The first game this weekend that concerns sides from the northern province is the meeting of Armagh and Fermanagh in the Division Three league final, which throws in at Croke Park at 5pm today.

Kieran McGeeney's Armagh side clinched promotion in the second last game of the league campaign when they eked out a tight, tense 0-7 each draw with Fermanagh away.

The Ernemen left it to the final play of their league campaign to make it back to Division Two after a year away, that coming virtue of a free from distance from Seamus Quigley, who scored three frees in injury-time to keep Longford down and propel his side into the final.

Just how useful this game would prove to either side is worthy of discussion. The two will meet again on May 19 in the Ulster Championship in Brewster Park, which means they will have faced each other in three out of four games.

It was suggested on the League Sunday highlights wrap show by Tomás ÓSé that both sides would be going after a win in Croke Park, but some reality needs to enter the equation.

Consider that in 2015, the same two teams met in the same final. Armagh won that encounter by five points, but in the Championship they were subject to a hiding by Donegal and in the second round were dumped out by Galway.

Meanwhile, Fermanagh progressed to the semi-final of Ulster before reaching the last-eight of the All-Ireland series, proof if ever it was needed that a league performance tells little about Championship prospects.

With both sides meeting each other again in six weeks' time in the Ulster Championship, paranoia levels will be heightened and neither side is likely to reveal any tactical innovations today.

Indeed, Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher hinted at giving some game time to those who have been around the fringes of things in their first seven games, stating: "We know we have Armagh down the line, but we've a very competitive squad now.

"Ruairi Corrigan came on (against Longford) and made a difference near the end. Paul McCusker and Danny Teague came in early enough. Sean Quigley came on and kicked a score, and could have scored more.

"It's great to get to Croke Park. We're not a county that has been to Croke Park on a regular basis and we'd love to make the most of it. I know there's boys champing at the bit for it."

Cavan, meanwhile, meet bogey side Roscommon in the Division Two league final tomorrow.

The Rossies have had Cavan's number for a number of years now and almost derailed the promotion charge of Mattie McGleenan's men in the penultimate league game when they took the points.

However, Cavan were to gain promotion on the final day of regulation games with a dramatic revival against Tipperary in Kingspan Breffni.

The last time they were in this position, they lost the Division Two final to Tyrone in 2016 but later in the season took the same side to a replay in the Ulster Championship semi-final.

The curtain-raiser to the big league finals weekend is the meeting of Carlow - who have Down man Steven Poacher as their trainer - and Laois in the Division Four decider.

Carlow have come in for criticism over their display against Laois last week, with those delivering the lines seemingly unaware of the status of dead-rubber games and that they are fifth-highest scorers across the divisions.

There will also be Ulster input into the Division One league final between Dublin and Galway, with former Tyrone, Derry and Down trainer - and 2017 Sigerson Cup-winning manager with St Mary's University - Paddy Tally now training Galway.

His hallmark is clear to be seen in the Tribesmen's defence, given they have played roughly 530 minutes of league football and conceded only one goal.

Belfast Telegraph

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