Harps and Pearse Óg part of Armagh SFC double-header
CITY rivals Harps and Pearse Óg are part of a double-header in round two qualifers at the Athletic Grounds on Friday.
Harps are first up, against Sarsfield's (6.45pm), followed by Óg's and Ballymacnab (8.30pm). Harps had county panellist Joe McElroy and Ryan McShane return from the States to help them overcome the challenge of parish neighbours Grange in the round one qualifer after losing to Ballymacnab in the opening round of the championship. They also had class attacker Conor Coulter back on duty, but it was the reflexes of county shot-stopper Patrick Morrison who kept the St Colmcille’s men at bay with a series of excellent first-half saves. In the end, it was a comfortable 2-16 to 0-10 victory.
It took an injury-time point against Forkhill to keep Sarsfield's in the championship proper and, while they put it up to league champions St Patrick’s in round two in the first-half, they were unable to sustain this effort, losing 1-15 to 1-9, the Cullyhanna goal coming in the opening minutes from full-back Sean Connell.
Harps would have been disappointed by their defeat to Ballymacnab, having dominated the game for long periods, but they were able to make amends next day out, even without the retired Gareth Swift, whose scoring consistency had brought them to the previous two county finals, only to suffer heavy defeats to Crossmaglen.
Managed by former player John Toner, they have been one of the top teams in the county for the past number of seasons and, once again, will be looking to leaders like Charlie Vernon, Declan McKenna, Joe McElory, Conor White, Mark McConville and Karol Loughran to keep them in the championship.
Sarsfield's will be spurred on by their heartening display against St Patrick’s, wastefulness perhaps playing its part in that defeat. Manager Johnny Niblock will be hoping to have corrected this shortcoming and certainly has the players at his disposal to be more productive in this department.
The High Moss outfit will again rely on their short running game, which can be difficult to counteract when perfected. They have an abundance of talent with the likes of the McGeowns - Paul and Eamon - the Stevensons - Peter, Michael and Colin - Paul McGaughey, Mark Reynolds and Niall Kerr. A tough one to call, but perhaps Harps’ greater experience will edge them through.
Pearse Óg bounced back from their rather humiliating 18-point defeat by St Patrick’s to see off Madden rather comfortably, with the help of goals from star performer Anto Duffy, Chris Rafferty and Tiernan Donnelly. It was a vastly depleted Óg's who crumbled to Cullyhanna and, while they are still short a number of regulars, their performance against Madden was much more akin to the glory days.
Following their victory over Harps, a victory inspired by the Grugan brothers - Rory and Jack - the latter landing 0-8, mostly from play, the Round Towers were strongly fancied to beat Clann Éireann in round two. However, a shaky defence, which leaked four goals, and the curtailment of the Grugan’s dominance, had them heading for the backdoor long before the final whistle. Relegated in the league, more questions are now being asked of Lenny Harbinson’s charges.
The Ógs, with captain Marc Cullen, Anto Duffy, Sean Moore and Gerard Barton back, will probably start favourites but, to make it to the quarter-finals, the likes of Chris Rafferty, Paul Duffy, Ross Clarke, Shay Freeman and Thomas Turley will have to step up to the plate, which they are capable of doing.
Ballymacnab captain Brian McCone has shown tremendous leadership so far in the championship and, if the Grugans, Ryan Kennedy and Damian McGeown can ignite what can be an flamboyant attacking unit, the Óg's defence will face a very stern examination.
A tie both combatants are capable of winning, but Óg's success last day out as opposed to the ’Nab’s failure, could have a bearing on the outcome.