Seven local clubs, most of whom will field up to eight teams at various levels throughout the year, start their season at senior level on Sunday.
Sarsfields, Wolfe Tones and St. Paul’s will all play in the top flight and Éire Óg, St. Peter’s, Clann Éireann and Clan na Gael will line out in Division 2.
With Crossmaglen continuing to dominate the Senior Championship series it can also be expect that the South Armagh side will win the First Division title with a little bit to spare. Rangers will be at their strongest for many seasons with their conveyor belt producing last season’s Ulster under-16 champions and they would still have aspirations of regaining at least an Ulster title.
Cross will welcome back former All Star Aaron Kernan, Paul McKeown, Kyle Carragher and Johnny Hanratty who all recently stepped down from County football.
With the race on for second place in both of Armagh’s top competitions it would appear that Cross could continue to dominate the County for many years to come.
Locally, the youth structures at Clann Éireann are producing teams which are above most other sides in the county. While it has been over 20 years since Clan na Gael won their hat-trick of Minor titles, Clann Éireann, over the forthcoming seasons, are well capable of securing the under 18 crown.
The Lake Street club have been highly impressive at Féile and under 16 level recently and could be ready to the top at Minor level.
So what will the new season have in store for the local sides who are competing at senior level?
This is the Mail’s verdict:
Saints boss Shane McConville has stated his side will not be just content to avoid relegation this season and will be pushing for a mid table spot; a lot, however, will depend on the availability of Andy Murnan and Phelim O’Neill who have been with the county squad over the winter.
Last year, St. Paul’s made history when they lifted the Division 2 title along with the Intermediate Championship. The squad was fit and focused but they will have a fight to stay in the top flight this year. Taghnevan will battle throughout the season but relegation is a real possibility. Possible title winning odds 100/1, relegation odds 7/2 prediction: 4th from bottom.
Finnian Moriarty is playing some of the best football of his life for Armagh, but how many times will he be seen in a Tones jersey this season?
Moriarty’s sustained presence for the ‘Cash side is crucial as they attempt to stay afloat in Division 1. The Tones have been training with a big squad over the winter months, but they were disappointed last season when, despite leading the Second Division title race from the start, they were pipped for the title by St. Paul’s in the last game of their campaign.
They will have to play at Championship pace in all their league games to stand a chance of surviving in a highly competitive top flight. They are difficult to beat at home but may have to settle for a sustained Championship run in 2015. Possible title wining odds 150/1, relegation odds 7/4. Prediction: Bottom three place.
The ‘Trasna outfit blossomed in the 2014 top flight but in truth against sides who were without County players but were unlucky not to win the title. The Highmoss also benefited greatly from the fact they played a high number of early season games at home last season. This year, however, they are on the road in three of their first four fixtures beginning with a tricky opener against promoted side Forkhill.
Sarsfields, who do not have a large squad, could struggle to reach the heights of 2014 and the Hoops did show their limitations in last season’s Championship campaign particularly against an ordinary Cullyhanna outfit. They will be expected to hold their own particularly against the promoted sides but may not have the strength in depth to sustain another title challenge. Possible title winning odds 33/1, relegation odds 16/1. Prediction: 7th place.
The Whites were beaten on several occasions by single-point margins when they last competed in the 2013 First Division but last season, in Division 2, they struggled to find any form of consistency despite starting the season well.
Like many teams, a lot will depend on the availability of their county men Aaron Findon and Niall McConville. St. Peter’s, despite being hard to beat at home, can struggle on the road but having a new manager this season in former Tír na nÓg player Franco Duffy and with the Freecrow having brought through a decent number of youth players, results could be expected to finish in a credible position. Possible title winning odds 7/1, Relegation odds 25/1, Prediction: 4th place.
Clan Na Gael
The fact that Stefan Campbell played very few games for the Clans last year badly hampered their season but reports the county player is injured would be even more worrying.
Campbell could be back for Armagh in late April but may not return to the blue jersey until the start of the Championship season which, unhelpfully, starts earlier than normal.
In one of last season’s Championship games, against eventual winners St. Paul’s, Campbell proved his worth taking on the role of a genuine scorer and leader but the Clans, who are holding together a relatively large squad at present, may need to find another in their ranks. The blues could, though, be on the cusp of a decent season. Possible title winning odds, 10/1; relegation odds 33/1. Prediction 5th place.
While it could be another couple of years before the Clanns reach their full potential, their young players could make the breakthrough to senior level and help the Shore Road to compete at the top of Armagh football. In last season’s league, as was the case in 2013, they started in tentative fashion but finished much more strongly. With Mark Beattie stepping down from his managerial role to concentrate on playing, former Armagh Minor assistant manager Kieran Robinson has stepped into the breach and his expertise is expected to bring the side to a new level. It could, however, take the new boss a couple of seasons to get his bearings considering the large numbers of players of a similar ability available to the Lake Street Club at present. Clann Éireann would be expected to have several players on the Armagh Minor side but they could be in the fight for promotion this season. Possible title odds 5/2; relegation odds 66/1. Prediction 2nd place.
The Ógs reached a plateau last season in Division 2 which was a level from which they found it very difficult to progress. Despite a tendency to be over-defensive, they have a decent system in place remaining from the days of former manager Micky Devlin who appeared to have changed the ‘mind-set’ of several of the club’s top players.
The Pinebank men have been doing sterling work at youth level. Last season, Éire Óg held their own with most sides in the second flight but lacked the resources to make any real impression on the promotion candidates.
In 2015, the Ógs will likely find themselves in a similar league position but must be vigilant that they do not stagnate following the successes of recent years.
Possible title odds 12/1; relegation odds 20/1. Prediction 6th place.