GAA Football

Armagh need to stand tall as Galway visit Athletic Grounds

Ciaran McKeever returns from injury to bolster the Armagh defence for Sunday's clash with Galway 
Andy Watters

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Armagh v Galway
(Sunday, the Athletic Grounds, 2pm)

ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney was quick to deflect blame for the loss in Cavan away from his players, but he needs them to stand tall tomorrow.

After that humiliating defeat at Kingspan Breffni Park, the Orchardmen get a shot at redemption when Galway visit the Athletic Grounds and they need to take or the relegation threat gets upgraded from possibility to probability.

Defeat will mean that Armagh would have to beat pacesetters Tyrone and Derry to stay in Division Two, but many Orchard fans will view this as a winnable game. One former player remarked this week: “You’d always have a chance of beating Galway.”

While it’s true the Tribes men have been a mercurial outfit, particularly away from home, they have enjoyed the better of it in the recent meetings between these counties. They have met five times since 2011 - three in the league and twice in the Championship - and Galway have won four. Armagh’s only success came in a Division Two meeting in 2013 when they won 0-21 to 1-12 in the Cathedral City.

The wholesale changes that have occurred since are illustrated by the fact that only two of the eight Armagh scorers that day will feature tomorrow – Tony Kernan starts while Stefan Forker is a substitute once again.

Of the others, Aaron Kernan, Stephen Harold, Sean Clarke, Brian Mallon and Caolan Rafferty are either retired or unavailable while Kevin Dyas is injured. If fit, Dyas would certainly be worth his place in the team and McGeeney has made only two changes to his side following that traumatic loss to Cavan.


The return of veteran defender Ciaran McKeever - in for fellow veteran Andy Mallon - is a timely one. Elsewhere, Ethan Rafferty comes in at midfield to partner Aaron Findon and Stefan Campbell moves to half-forward with Niall Grimley dropping to the bench that also includes Brendan Donaghy.

The switch to the forward unit should suit Campbell who struggled to get into the game in Cavan. Armagh were cleaned out at centrefield by the home side’s towering quartet Tomas Corr, Liam Buchanan, Michael Argue and Gearoid McKiernan.

The Orchard midfield wasn’t helped by an under-cooked kick-out strategy that obviously needs a lot of fine-tuning. Goalkeeper Matthew McNeice tried a couple short and a couple out to the flanks, but for the most part he was forced to hoof the ball down the middle and Cavan gobbled up possession.

Any side that can’t win its own kick-outs is in trouble and Galway had a lot of success in midfield when they won in Armagh in the Qualifiers last summer. Armagh, as they tend to do, made a game of it late on but they had too much ground to make up after conceding possession and space for two-thirds of the contest.

Galway manager Kevin Walsh will start just five of the players who won that day – defenders Liam Silke and skipper Gary O'Donnell, who marshals the defence from centre-back, midfield/half-forwards Paul Conroy and Thomas Flynn and targetman full-forward Damien Comer, who played with his back to the Armagh goal and finished with 1-2.

The Tribes men returned from warm weather training in Portugal this week and Walsh explained the target before departure: "We have worked out a detailed training programme for each of the days and it will be great to get good time together to work on a few things,” he said.

“A lot of work has gone in over the past few months and this will help us step it up again, but our first priority is the Armagh match on Sunday. We know how tough that will be,” added the former Galway captain and Allstar who will have corner-back Eoghan Kerin available on Sunday.

After Armagh’s trouncing in Cavan, Walsh must sense that the two points are there for the taking and victory would put the Connacht outfit right back in contention for promotion with games against Fermanagh (home) and Cavan (away) to finish. But he will also expect a reaction from Armagh and McGeeney and the Orchard fans will demand one.

So much is at stake for the home side. Losing means probable relegation and the loss of confidence and pride that could render the rest of this season a write-off. The Orchard men will give a better account of themselves tomorrow, they have to, and McKeever’s presence should add some bite to the defence.

But Galway - whose only loss has been against Tyrone - beat Derry on the road a fortnight ago with a running game that cut the Oak Leaf defence to shreds. Cavan were able to do the same to Armagh last week and on current form Galway have to start as favourites.


M McNeice; S Connell, C Vernon, S Heffron; M Shields, C McKeever, S Sheridan; A Findon, E Rafferty; S Campbell, M McKenna, A Forker; C Watters, C O’Hanlon, T Kernan
Galway: M Breathnach; D Wynne, D Kyne, E Kerin; L Silke, G O’Donnell, J Heaney; E Tierney, P Conroy; T Flynn, E Hoare, E Brannigan; S Walsh, A Varley, D Comer

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