ARMAGH’S senior footballers will enter Breffni Park on Sunday to face former Ulster kingpins Cavan in the provincial opener clinging to the positives gathered from the recent league victory over Galway.
Fans will have difficulty analysing Sunday’s pending clash in any other fashion such was their sides inconsistency so far season. The dream is to dismiss the Breffni men forthwith before moving to the first round proper, which at least on paper would appear to be the easier route to the Anglo Celt Cup.
The reality is that Paul Grimley faces his toughest test to date in the Orchard county hot seat, a position which has changed hands several times since the glory days of a decade ago when any one of eight scoring forwards could have won a game on any given day.
Striking a line of form through this weekends opponents would show very little between the talents of the combatants, Cavan heralded from division three this season and were pitted against Roscommon who ended the county’s hopes last year, a scenario which sounded the death knell on the reign of Paddy O’Rourke. In the new order under Grimley Armagh faced opponents not much better than third division standard, Longford finished pointless, and Wexford would be described as also rans in a tough Leinster series. Defeats against Westmeath and Laois in particular, illustrated third tier form and underlined the task facing the new management.
Ironically even considering the safety net provided with a second chance through the qualifier route, Sunday’s Ulster preliminary encounter should be ‘Championship Fare’ in every sense of the word. Cavan are the new provincial whizz kids, following their Ulster three in a row success at under 21 level. The bookies have Armagh at generous odds of around 7/1 to attain provincial glory. They see the title going one of two ways, but favourites Donegal and Tyrone will go head to head in Ballybofey in front of an 18,000 capacity which could have been doubled at a more suitable venue.
Jim McGuinness and his side created history being the only team to win successive Ulster titles from the preliminary round, and unless the form of Sunday’s opponents changes dramatically the bookies calculations could prove to be accurate.
Cavan are miles in front of all Ulster counties on the winners rostrum with 39 titles, many of which were won in the forties and fifties, in 1996 Martin McHugh delivered provincial glory for the Breffni men in what was an isolated year, but in recent times Cavan have struggled to gain a foothold.
As for Armagh there is little doubt that Paul Grimley will eventually make a difference, the Pearse Ogs man stated at the start of the season, ‘It could take four or five years to see Armagh reach their peak,’ but will the fans be patient or will success be expected in Grimley’s first year?
An All-Ireland quarter final would be a plus this season, it can be taken for granted that Sam will be won by a side from the top division. Armagh have a chance of moving through to the next round, it’s a case of one game at a time after that. The visitors can sneak through with a little bit to spare.