Armagh will be 'all guns blazing' against Down, says Aidan Forker
ARMAGH will come out “all guns blazing” against old rivals Down tomorrow night, promises Aidan Forker.
The target is a victory and, probably, a place in the McKenna Cup semi-finals, but the Maghery man also admits that the Orchard County players are setting their sights much higher than that.
Kieran McGeeney’s men have put themselves in contention after thrashing Queen’s by 2-19 to 0-8 and Forker confirmed that they have targeted a higher scoring rate in general in order to get back among football’s big guns:
“That’s probably our goal each game, to get 17 or 18 scores – that’s what we have to get to, that’s what all the top teams are scoring.
“I know it’s a college team, but we did all the right things, bar a few silly errors; we could have actually conceded a wee bit less. Those are things we can tidy up in January.”
A win would lift Armagh above Down but topping the section would still depend on how Derry do against Queen’s. Even second spot might not be enough for a semi-final place as Tyrone might be able to exceed Armagh’s scoring average in that scenario.
Beating Down won’t be easy, he realises, although the nature of the victory over Queen’s was a good boost: “That win gives us a bit of confidence going in and if we beat Down, which is easier said than done, it’s likely to be a scrappy affair with what’s coming in the summer [the two teams will meet in Newry in the Ulster SFC].
“There’’ll be nobody lying down…so we’ll be going out all guns blazing.
“The scoring element is something we’ve been working on, our attacking play is a real area of focus this year. Defensively we’re not doing too bad either.”
Although Armagh have dropped down to Division Three in the League, Forker re-iterates that they are aiming for the heights: “If you look at all the top teams, like Dublin, they’re getting 18, 19 scores – people might laugh at me putting us in the same breath as them but that’s the goal, that’s where we’re trying to get to.
“We’re working harder on our set-ups and it’s paying dividends, you can see wee bits and pieces, but we’ve a long way to go.”
Even within that whopping win on Sunday Armagh went 20 minutes without scoring in the first half as Queen’s packed their defence, but Forker accepts he and his team-mates must learn to deal with such situations:
“We always knew they would, we’re working on that, a lot of teams are playing 13, 14 behind the ball. There are gaps there to be exposed but it’s about being patient.
“I’m probably guilty myself of forcing passes, forcing things that aren’t on. You need a wee bit of patience, game-smarts. Moving on, the Down game is going to be a tougher encounter.
“There’s nothing between the teams. Silly mistakes cost us against Derry and we came away from there very disappointed.”
Despite wearing the number five jersey, Forker worked up and down Armagh’s left flank, a change from the full-forward role he played as his club Maghery won their first ever county SFC title last year.
He laughed when the subject of position was raised, saying: “I was joking there that I better not play too well in the half-back line or I’ll find myself stuck there all year!
“Yeah, you get a wee bit more time on the ball, but it’s inter-changeable, I was at wing half-back and wing half-forward. I’m probably comfortable in both those roles – and if referees give me a bit of a break I’m not a bad tackler either!
“The way we look at it it’s a middle eight, so your position doesn’t really matter, it’s a middle eight position. You have to tick all the boxes: ability to carry the ball, run the ball, good fitness.”
Fitness – and referees – permitting, Forker will be in the Armagh team somewhere, his importance illustrated by him sharing the captain’s armband with Rory Grugan, but he is happy that “there’s a lot of competition for places, boys missing due to injury or being away with their college. I think that competition for places is going to be the difference for this team this year compared to years gone by.”
One addition to the attacking options is the returning Jamie Clarke, who did not feature for his county last year, but has been welcomed back by Forker:
“Jamie, it’s good to see him back in there – he knows himself he has a bit of work to do to get up to speed. A team with Jamie is always a better team; you can see it in training, he’s got that quality, and he can only push other boys on as well.
“Every year is always a wee bit different but one thing is for sure – everybody that is here is pushing hard, being competitive, and wanting to play for Armagh.”
Wanting to score too.