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If we take Antrim lightly, they will rip us to shreds, says Armagh captain Stefan Campbell

Ulster Football Championship Quarter-Final

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Stefan Campbell

Stefan Campbell

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Jemar Hall

Jemar Hall

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

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Stefan Campbell

Stefan Campbell’s leadership was viewed as crucial in Armagh’s successful bid to retain their place in Division One of the Allianz Football League.

But while the Lurgan man is both relieved and happy that his side will enjoy another term at least in the elite bracket, he believes that their League itinerary was a stepping stone for the Ulster Championship.

The Orchard County will get their campaign under way in the province’s flagship competition today when they host Antrim at the Athletic Grounds (3.30pm) conscious that they have been conspicuous by their absence from the title-winners list since 2008.

Yet if the vibrancy, commitment and polish which highlighted Armagh’s play over the course of the truncated League can be replicated today, the probability is that significant progress can be made.

But skipper Campbell is taking nothing for granted as he prepares to spearhead his team’s mission in what is regarded as the most demanding of all the provincial Championships.

“There is no doubt that competition for starting places in the Championship is keen in every county and even though we have had injuries recently, we still have players chomping at the bit to get slots in the side,” reveals Campbell.

“Thankfully we have seen people like Andrew Murnin and James Morgan come back and while we still have the likes of Aidan Nugent and Mark Shields recovering from long-term injuries, we still feel we have a decent squad.

“I think we showed against Roscommon in our most recent match that on any given day different people can step up to the mark. In that game Jemar Hall was exceptional and we had players like the O’Neills, Rian and Oisin, scoring from just about everywhere.”

Campbell’s exemplary leadership and scoring ratio serve to underpin his importance to the side but he is quick to point out that there are other leaders in the line-up.

And while his side will go into today’s match as favourites to book a Semi-Final place, Campbell is in no doubt the confidence and verve that Antrim have discovered this term will stand to them when the heat is on at the Athletic Grounds.

“I know that Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill have been doing a good job since they took over at Antrim and the fact that the side won promotion to Division Three will send them into this match against us in good heart,” maintains Campbell. “They have a lot of talent in their side and we will certainly need to be on our toes. I know that the Antrim management have been talking us up but there might just be a little bit of mind games in that when all is said and done.”

And Campbell gives an insight into the ‘homework’ he has undertaken in relation to the threat that Antrim might pose.

“I was watching Antrim playing against Louth in their opening League game while the rest of the country was watching Kerry in action against Galway that day and I must say I was impressed by what I witnessed,” reveals Campbell.

“In that game against Louth, and in other League ties, Antrim showed they have the capacity to close matches out and that’s something that we are very aware of.

“If we were to take Antrim lightly there is a danger that they could rip us to shreds.”

Indeed, Campbell has already sounded a warning that if Antrim are accorded time and space up front they could prove difficult to contain.

“They have very good players in their attack with the likes of Ryan Murray, Odhran Eastwood and Paddy Cunningham all posing a big threat,” insists Campbell.

It was in the Ulster Championship tie against Donegal last year that Armagh offered a markedly weak performance and Campbell is anxious that there should be no repeat of this.

“I thought on that occasion we just did not have a go. Donegal were always able to hit us on the counter and we were lacking in confidence. But then if that game had taken a different direction we might not have absorbed the lessons that we did and I don’t think we would be having the season which we are having currently,” observes Campbell.


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