Armagh and Ulster rivals Down will enter their National Football League derby tomorrow night(Friday) on the back of similar performances in last weekend’s games against Louth and Monaghan respectively.
The Orchard men got out of jail in Drogheda, Paul Grimley’s team snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat and in Newry, Down fought back following a dismal first half to grab a share of the spoils which forced their manager James McCartan to admit, “It was the worst first half performance in my time with the team.”
An injury ravaged Armagh still missing several players were rescued in the closing minutes by a Stefan Forker goal and galvanised by three points from play by the most impressive attacker so far this season Clan na Gael’s Stefan Campbell.
Inspired by the brilliance of midfielder Paddy Keenan, Louth took the visitors to the cleaners for most of the game, but their manager and former Armagh defender Aidan O’Rourke wasn’t impressed by his sides late capitulation he said. “We were by far the best team out there. I thought we dominated the match for long periods but to be honest our boys thought they had the game won and stopped playing, we were lucky in one sense to get a draw.”
Annaghmore player Oisin McKeever could have given his side both points but shot wide deep into injury time, a win however would only have put a veneer on a lack lustre performance from Paul Grimley’s men.
Any team containing Ciaran McKeever would be expected to battle to the end, with Jamie Clarke wearing the captain’s armband, McKeever started on the bench but the Cullyhanna player, who was introduced on 26 minutes, rallied the troops despite the fact he is still carrying an injury.
Grimley suggested his sides lightly build forwards struggled in the conditions, he said. “I suppose the mistake I made at the start of the game was to line out a very light full forward line. It took me to half time to realise that given the conditions that the tactics weren’t going to work and we changed it as quickly as possible. I would have to accept responsibility for the first half.”
The new ruling which allows six substitutions worked for a struggling Armagh side, Crossmaglen pair Paul Hughes and Johnny Hanratty along with Maghery player James Lavery were all taken off before the 30 minute mark, and their replacements namely Ciaran McKeever, Steven Harold and Aidan Forker all contributed to the revival which at least provides a glimmer of hope for Friday’s derby clash with Down.
It would be a major surprise if last Sunday’s second half substitutes Brian Mallon and goal scorer Stefan Forker didn’t start against Down, Steven Harold will probably join Ethan Rafferty at midfield and although Stefan Campbell has been performing well at wing forward the Clans player could be handed the number 14 jersey.
Grimley suggested his team had finished better than they started. “Despite the bad start we won a lot of ball in midfield in the final quarter. Our defence tightened up and we could have snatched a result. The most pleasing aspect despite the injuries was the players battled to the finish.
“We need to step up considerably however to get a result against Down.”
For the moment the new black card ruling would appear to have made an impact, four players were sent off in last weekends matches which has to be welcomed considering that 12 were replaced in the opening game of provincial competitions earlier in the season.
With Galway and Laois still pointless at the bottom of Division 2 and Armagh sitting in mid table, pace setters Donegal and Meath look the teams to beat this season.