Armagh braced for a Westmeath backlash in Mullingar
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifying round 2B: Westmeath v Armagh (Saturday, TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, 7pm)
IF THE old adage is true and you really are only as good as your last game, then Armagh are going to walk this one.
On the evening of Sunday, June 25 the Orchardmen were strolling to a nine-point win over Fermanagh around the same time Westmeath fans were returning home from Croke Park after watching their side get hung, drawn and quartered by Dublin in a Leinster semi-final mismatch that ended with a 31-point defeat.
Of course, and with all due respect to Fermanagh, Dublin they ain’t, and so the old adage has to be taken with an O’Neill’s size five-sized pinch of salt. The truth is that this evening’s match-up will give a much more accurate reflection of where these sides – who will meet in Division Three next season –currently are.
Buoyed by beating the Ernemen convincingly, Armagh travel to Mullingar with confidence while the home side will surely be hammering down the door to get out and prove they aren’t as awful as they looked against the Dubs. Manager Tom Cribben admitted the scale of that defeat has taken time to get over.
“We took it badly,” he said on his way home from team training on Thursday night.
“We took the manner of the defeat very badly because we felt we let our supporters down.
“We dropped our heads a bit and it looked like lads weren’t trying. They were so disillusioned and so disappointed it doesn’t look well, it looks like you’ve thrown in the towel and maybe we did but I don’t think they’re that type of lads.”
Cribben insists that he and his players have got the 4-29 to 0-10 defeat out of their collective system and are determined to prove their true worth this evening.
“We’re very upbeat now and we’re in a good place,” he said.
“One bad result shouldn’t determine your year and we’re hoping to bounce back, whether we’re good enough to beat Armagh, only Saturday night will tell.”
Westmeath drew with Offaly in their Leinster opener but recovered to hammer the faithful county 3-17 to 0-15 in the replay. Meanwhile, Armagh produced a decent first half in their Ulster quarter-final against Down but couldn’t raise a gallop in the second and exited the provincial title race at the first hurdle for the third year on-the-trot.
“They were unlucky against Down, they lost by a couple of points but there was nothing in it,” Cribben observed.
“Same as their last League match, they gave away a late goal against Tipp so they’ve been unlucky and sometimes, if you keep working hard and plodding away, your luck changes.
“We’re at home and we think that’s a slight bit of an advantage which brings the teams a bit closer together but I’m sure Armagh will be confident after beating Fermanagh by nine points. That was a big result for them.”
Cribben has made two changes to his starting line-up from the team that was trounced by the Dubs - Milltownpass clubman Sam Duncan comes into the half-forward line while Kevin Reilly starts at corner-forward.
Reilly’s clubmate from St Loman’s Mullingar John Heslin remains the go-to man in attack. The beanpole full-forward hit 1-6 in the Offaly win and will cause Charlie Vernon problems this evening while Aidan Forker may get the job of looking after the rambunctious Kieran Martin.
“We’ll go in with real confidence because we have nothing to lose, but Armagh will be in the same boat,” says Cribben.
“This is real Championship, the teams can throw caution to the wind and have a real cut at it.”
Armagh will be delighted to hear that, because if this game is a shoot-out they have real chances of winning it. Armagh have struggled to unpick strategic defensive stitching but if they are allowed to space and time they have match-winners in their ranks.
Manager Kieran McGeeney return to the dugout after his 12-week touchline ban came to an end and he has drafted in the fit-again James Morgan for Whitecross clubman Mark Shields. Armagh’s physicality was impressive against Fermanagh and they played with purpose and power underpinned by the displays of Stephen Sheridan and Niall Grimley in midfield.
Meanwhile, Jamie Clarke and Andy Murnin were always a handful in attack and, if they get the delivery from Rory Grugan and Anto Duffy they will give Armagh the cutting edge they’ll need to win this game.
The Orchardmen still run hot and cold and that is an obvious concern going into this game. So far they’ve played in spells, but there is a 70-minute performance in this Orchard team and so they start as narrow favourites this evening.
Westmeath: D Quinn; M McCallon, K Maguire, J Gonoud; D Lynch, F Boyle, J Dolan; P Sharry, G Egan; J Egan, K Martin, S Duncan; K Reilly, J Heslin, K Daly
Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker, B Donaghy, J Morgan; S Sheridan, N Grimley; C O’Hanlon, A Duffy, R Grugan; J Clarke, A Murnin, G McParland