McKeever predicts a memorable - if not beautiful - encounter

Armagh veteran Paddy McKeever expects a close encounter at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday   
Niall Gartland

PADDY McKEEVER was a key component of an Armagh side that, until recently, dominated Donegal in Championship football.

While Donegal did manage to defeat Armagh in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, there was the bare minimum separating the sides – and McKeever envisions another titanic tussle on Sunday.

“Every match thus far, with the possible exception of Fermanagh v Antrim, has been extremely competitive. I expect this to be the same,” he said.

"The Ulster Championship has long been the graveyard of many a favourite, but to date, none have fallen.”

The Ballyhegan clubman recognises that, on paper, the odds are in Donegal’s favour.

“Leaving emotion aside, the reality is that Donegal have been operating at a higher level,” he said.

“The gulf between Division One and Three is a significant one. That, coupled with Armagh’s relative inactivity on the match front, gives Donegal a marked edge. They have also come through a morale-boosting match with Tyrone, and boast a clean bill of health.

“There are question marks over the fitness of a few proven performers  for Armagh – Stefan Campbell, Kevin Dyas and Mark Shields have missed quite a bit of football over recent months.”

McKeever’s Armagh side prided itself on its ability to dictate proceedings as the final whistle approached, and he recognises this as an important facet of Donegal’s game as well.

“Their experience and game management is key – teams appear to get within striking distance, with victory tantalisingly close, before Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn or another of the entourage invariably produce the match-winning moments.”

The stylish ex-forward, who won seven Ulster medals with his county, still believes that it would be “foolish” to discount Armagh.

“They are a highly motivated team, littered with talent, that will not be found wanting in terms of belief or physique," he added.

“Whether they have the composure, leadership and individuals to turn this game on its head coming into the final stretch remains to be seen.”

Donegal are masters of holding onto a lead, and McKeever thinks Armagh must ensure the familiar pattern of Donegal matches doesn’t take hold.

“They cannot afford to let Donegal build a lead. It’s been a feature of their play, where they blitz teams in the first 15 minutes then revert to the counter-attacking play that has served them well," he said.

“If Armagh can weather the early storm and remain in touch, or ideally go ahead, then Donegal will be forced to come out of their defensive formation, leaving room inside that is seldom granted.

“Armagh need width and scoring potential from distance, and I feel they need goals if they’re to overcome a rejuvenated Donegal side.”

Echoing Kieran McGeeney’s comments last week about Ulster games being refereed too strictly, McKeever believes the match needs to be officiated sensibly by David Coldrick.

“I pray that officials let this game be played as it should be. If that is so, then we are in for something memorable. Maybe not beautiful but memorable.”

As for his overall prediction for Sunday? A replay will be necessary.


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