Former All-Star Oisín McConville described Armagh’s victory over Tyrone last Sunday in the All Ireland Qualifiers as ‘the most significant win for the county over their Ulster rivals in 20 years’.
Earlier this season, Paul Grimley’s side were relegated to Division Three and, at that point, the future was not exactly bright.
McConville’s comments would not have been made lightly considering that the teams had been involved in many titanic struggles over the past two decades.
Armagh made light of the fact they were in action for the third weekend in a row, they took the game to Tyrone and, although greatly assisted when Red Hand defender Mattie Donnelly was red carded five minutes before the break, the visitors were hungrier, more co-ordinated and in Jamie Clarke had a play maker who sliced open the home sides defence several times over the 70 minutes.
Roscommon, who dumped Armagh out of the Championship back in 2012, romped home against Cavan last weekend and will be a lot more physical and battle-hardened than Tyrone. They are very difficult to beat on their home pitch but Grimley’s team will enter the game with renewed hope.
Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly and Armagh player Aidan Forker were both booked before the ball had been thrown in but the early exchanges appeared to affect some of the younger Tyrone players more than their Ulster counterparts.
The visitors played with a lot more purpose than the home side, Tyrone were a pale shadow of their former selves and it would be expected that both Conor Gormley and attacking legend Steven O’Neil will consider their Inter-County futures. Twelve months ago, Armagh’s rearguard was a defensive wreck but, now, with Kieran McGeeney bringing his prowess to the forefront, the all-out attacking policy has been consigned to history. Indeed at times on Sunday two sweepers were employed.
The evidence from last weekend’s encounter showed Armagh still created a lot more chances than Tyrone. Mark Shields and Jamie Clarke had gilt-edged goal opportunities and when James Morgan was substituted on 40 minutes his replacement Aaron Kernan was immediately involved in the action. Tyrone scored just twice from open play in a game which, apart from a brief spell at the start of the second half, was controlled by the visitors.
The fact the winners had seven different scorers was a major plus. Defenders Mark Shields, Andy Mallon and Steven Harold all found the target, as did Stefan Campbell, Jamie Clarke, Tony Kernan and Kevin Dyas.
Roscommon are mobile, cunning and physical, the question for Armagh now is whether four matches in as many weeks will prove a bridge too far. With a revived optimism in the air, Armagh should not fear their trip to the Rossies.