THE 2013 season starts in earnest for Armagh on Saturday when Paul Grimley’s team travel to O’Moore Park in County Laois for their opening National football League game.
The new team boss will of course be without the Crossmaglen players who are currently concentrating on winning their third All-Ireland Club title in a row. In the meantime Grimley will be expecting the players at his disposal to be fully committed and the supporters will be delighted with the news that Jamie Clarke has postponed his travelling plans which would have ruled the Rangers man out for the majority of the Inter-county season.
While two McKenna Cup defeats would not have been ideal preparation for the forthcoming league campaign some of the individual performances have given the fans renewed hope. Maghery’s Stefan Forker is a case in point. He has been the County’s outstanding performer so far this season. Despite being left out of the squad in 2012 Stefan was instrumental in guiding his club side to their first All County Division 1 title for 19 years.
St Peter’s Niall McConville, Sarsfields player Michael Stevenson, and Clan na Gael’s Stefan Campbell have all had game time in the McKenna Cup series with Campbell in particular showing well against Down in the second half. Paul Grimley over the coming weeks will be forced to balance the scenario of trying players in new roles, yet pushing for a sustained effort to secure a promotion place. Should the County fail to rise from what looks like a mediocre second flight serious questions will be asked about the quality of the side as they attempt to challenge for Ulster honours in the summer.
All Ireland aspirations however may have to be put on the long finger for a period of time, Grimley has already indicated that he sees the Armagh strategy as a four or five year plan. The bookmakers are offering odds of close to 66/1 for the chances of winning the Sam Maguire title in 2013, and with the retirement of Steven McDonnell and Paul Hearty coupled with the long term injury sustained by Ronan Clarke all remnants of the victorious 2002 team have gone.
Defensively Armagh are as strong as any other Ulster County, several players will be jostling for league and championship positions over the coming months. Brendan Donaghy, Finnian Moriarty, Declan McKenna, Ciaan McKeever,and of course players like Aaron Kernan will provide the backbone to the rearguard, but can Jamie Clarke, Stefan Forker and possibly Tony Kernan gel to put the County in a position to contest for major honours?
Long term it would be difficult not to see the likes of Donegal and Tyrone contesting for Provincial honours, Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan, Down and Derry would appear to be currently on a lower plateau along with Antrim and Fermanagh. As the new league season beckons Armagh fans will be confident that Paul Grimley will encourage the players to reach their full potential, The side should be good enough to gain promotion from Division 2. This Saturday’s trip to Laois however will indicate as to whether or not the side has progressed under their new manager.
Last season two great performances against Down and Kerry seemed to indicate a new dawn for the County who stumbled out of the All Ireland series to lowly Roscommon at Doctor Hyde Park.
Inconsistency has been the Achilles’ heel of the county side for the past number of seasons. The newly formed Armagh Academy is currently schooling fringe players who could be ready for full County football in the near future, Armagh will need to hit the ground running and win on Saturday to renew confidence and sustain a push for promotion.