Armagh will attempt to get their season back on track when they play Wicklow on Saturday at the Athletic Grounds, the first round qualifier game will test the mettle of Kieran McGeeney’s side who were outclassed by Donegal in the recent Provincial opener.
The last time the Garden County side visited the Armagh venue they were under the management of Mick O’Dwyer and it took a second day out and some great finishing from Aaron Kernan to push his side to a replay win.
The Crossmaglen wing back who had been described as one of the best players of his generation stepped down from Inter county football at the start of the season along with a host of others who are still active on the club scene.
Portadown man Brian Mallon, who won an All Ireland under 21 title with the County back in 2004, is still a fervent supporter of the Armagh seniors but while suggesting that he misses the cut and trust of it all, he will be keeping a close eye on events at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday.
Brian said, “When you have a young family you find it is difficult to balance all the commitments of work, family matters along with any duties with the club.
“The effort the current Armagh squad are currently making is huge so both the players and the management would be deeply disappointed by the recent defeat against Donegal.”
The Tir na Nog player lined out for his club in their win against St. Paul’s last Friday night, a victory which was cemented by a opportunist second half goal from Paul Carville. Missing from the Teghnevan sides line out were Andrew Murnan and Phelim O’Neill.
Murnan, who was re introduced into the Kieran McGeeney’s side in the NFL was expected to play a leading role last time out but Donegal’s strict defensive system starved the Lurgan man of a lot of first phase possession, but Mallon suggests that the St. Paul’s player can bounce back.
“The way that Donegal play the game makes it difficult for inside forwards to gain possession and even if they do there is normally a series of defenders between them and the goals, had Jamie Clarke been used in a more forward position he would have encountered the same problems as Andrew.
“It is so difficult to pick out a player up front when sides are lining six or seven players across the half back line,” added Brian.
Mallon, who was an intricate part of Peter McDonnell’s side which won the Ulster Title back in 2009, stressed that Wicklow will be very hard to beat.
“We played them when Paul Grimley was in charge and were lucky to get a draw before beating them in a replay. They were unlucky against Meath recently in the Leinster Championship where they hit three goals. Armagh will need a big performance to move into the next round.”
During his playing days with Armagh Brian, who would have been known as a finisher, played many games in a roving commission linking up behind the play where he used his stamina to telling effect, while many pundits are currently questioning the tactics used by managers who play forwards in defensive roles, the Portadown man believes that modern players have learned to adapt.
“The game has changed dramatically over the years, when I started at under age with Tir na Nog I played at corner back, some of the top forwards in the modern game are being asked to work and chase back when they lose possession, in particular County players have to be versatile, but it’s all about getting the right blend.”
Looking forward to the Armagh game at the weekend Brian concluded, “Armagh will need a positive reaction following the defeat against Donegal who will be hard to beat in the Ulster Final and the All Ireland series. They will have a good chance of winning the game and build up a bit of momentum moving forward.”