Armagh's Mark Shields relishing prospect of Donegal challenge

Whirecross GAC chairman Eugene Reavey with Armagh’s Mark Shields and Stephen Sheridan, and Donegal’s Ryan McHugh at the launch of tomorrow’s match at St Killian’s, Whitecross to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Reavey brothers murder
Neil Loughran

ARMAGH wing-back Mark Shields believes tomorrow’s challenge game against Donegal will prove ideal preparation for their Ulster Championship showdown with Cavan next month.

The Orchardmen welcome Rory Gallagher’s Tir Chonaill to Whitecross (5pm throw-in) for a game commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murder of the Reavey brothers, as both counties gear up for the start of their Championship campaign.

Donegal will be the last Ulster side out when they play the winners of Antrim-Fermanagh on June 12, whereas Armagh minds are firmly focused on their meeting with Terry Hyland’s high-flying Cavan on May 29.

The Breffni Blues earned promotion to Division One after a strong finish to their National League campaign, while Kieran McGeeney’s men dropped down to Division Three on the last day.

Cavan have added more attacking intent to their defensive base this year, and Shields feels Donegal are the perfect opposition as Armagh build towards Championship.

The Whitecross clubman said: “It [relegation] was a disappointment but we’re all in Championship mode now.

“We’re looking forward to this challenge game and we’ll use this game as preparation for Cavan because Donegal, you’ve seen the way they play, it’s the same system - you have to break them down slowly.

“It’s great preparation for Cavan.”

One of the results that proved the catalyst for Cavan’s push up the table was a resounding 17-point thumping of Armagh on March 5.

The two counties have become the best of enemies in recent years after some heated meetings in League and Championship, but Shields insists Armagh had only themselves to blame for what transpired that night at Kingspan Breffni Park.

“It was a bad defeat. It was sort of a freaky defeat, but we will be looking at it, analysing it, seeing what we did wrong,” he said.

“It wasn’t great to be playing in that game because you just saw points going over – everything Cavan hit went over and we were struggling to get points at all.

“We did go over it in video analysis afterwards and we knew it was mostly our own mistakes that cost us a few goals and countless points.

“We know we have something to prove against Cavan from the League game.”

Armagh looked to be moving towards a more attacking style in the latter stages of the League, with draws against Galway (when they were eight points ahead going into injury-time), Tyrone and a victory over Derry putting a more positive slant on what was ultimately a disappointing campaign.

“The last few performances were good,” said Shields.

“We’ve been looking at making that transition from defence to attack quicker – we weren’t doing that in the first few games the way we wanted to, and it showed in the results.

“But now we have that balance with the correct people in the correct positions, maybe we can drive on from there.”

Regarding tomorrow’s challenge game in Whitecross, Shields is sure it will be “a great occasion”.

He said: “It means a lot to have such a big game come to such a small club.

“We’re probably one of the smallest clubs in south Armagh, so it’s a great occasion to have this commemoration for the Reavey family in our own club.

“Hopefully there’s a big turnout.”

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