Donegal date for Orchard County men in early Ulster Championship meeting

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney was in the crowd at Ballybofey last Sunday to witness Donegal’s hard-fought three-point win over Tyrone in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship.

Rory Gallagher’s side will now visit the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, June 14 for an intriguing first-round tie.

Although questions had been asked as to whether or not the reigning champions would take a step backwards following the departure of Jim McGuinness to Celtic Park.

Donegal fans got most of their answers when their side came through a tough decider against Mickey Harte’s men.

On a line of form taken through Armagh’s encounters against Tyrone, McGeeney’s team also beat the Red Hands last season but were unlucky to go out to Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Armagh’s All-Ireland-winning odds have shortened considerably since they showed renewed form this season, they are being quoted at around 25/1 - odds which have been shortened from 66/1 at the start of their campaign.

Whilst it can almost be taken for granted that the Sam Maguire winners will come from the First Division, McGeeney has always stressed that his side’s main priority was winning their first Ulster title since 2009.

The Orchard men would be appearing to be building a momentum not seen from an Armagh side for several years - although possibly punching below their weight against Fermanagh in the league final, McGeeney’s side had co-ordination and a gameplan against Pete McGrath’s side.

Armagh will need both a strong starting 15 and an equally strong bench against Donegal on June 13, Stefen Campbell is back on board following a period out with an ankle injury and it is believed that St Paul’s player Andy Murnan will make the cut.

Armagh will have no fears on their physical capacities against Gallagher’s side who out-muscled Tyrone in some departments last Sunday, McGeeney’s midfield selection will be interesting, although several players - including St Peter’s Aaron Findon, Steven Harold, Ethan Rafferty and Charlie Vernon - would all be suggested for the positions, it looks almost certain that Findon will make the cut.

Donegal, for their part, have strength in all departments and have, in particular, one of the best defences in the business,

Ryan McHugh, who looks an all-out attacking player - has been utilised to great effect in defence where he is used to carry the ball - and both Neill McGee and Karl Lacey are in the form of their lives as the clock ticks down to the Athletic Grounds meeting.

Armagh boss McGeeney will have big decisions to make: Will Charlie Vernon be the player with the strength to hold Michael Murphy? Should Jamie Clarke be given an attacking role? Have the former Ulster champions weathered well playing in the Third Division?

Donegal will arrive at the Athletic Grounds as favourites for a game which will fully test the philosophy of Armagh’s new manager.