Armagh appear assured of semi spot - but Monaghan must win
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section B, round three: Armagh v Monaghan (The Athletic Grounds, 8pm tonight)
BARRING a bizarre combination of results Armagh are already through to the semi-finals, so the outcome of this tussle may depend mostly on how much Monaghan want to win.
That’s certainly not to disrespect the hosts, who are very capable of achieving a third consecutive victory, but it’s only the visitors who need to collect two points tonight.
Even a draw would leave Malachy O’Rourke and his men wondering about scoring difference in the other sections.
For Armagh, the equation is simple: avoid defeat and the will meet the team that tops Section A; lose and they will surely still be the best runner-up because of their own sizeable scoring difference (39 at the moment) and so would meet the winners of Section C.
The latter is likely to be Tyrone, who are top at present and host Fermanagh tonight, knowing that they could lose at home and Derry would still need to turn around a 22-point scoring difference to overtake them.
Section A is a straight fight between Donegal and Cavan, who meet in Ballybofey, with the hosts having the added advantage of a draw being good enough for them as they have a superior scoring difference.
Monaghan would still have needed a win tonight even had they beaten St Mary’s at the weekend so Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney was not lulled into a false sense of security by that somewhat surprising draw in Clones on Sunday.
“Knowing Malachy,” he laughed, “he’s a wee bit shrewder than the rest of us, so I’m sure he has something lined up. He’ll want more game-time in the legs for his team as well.
“They’re a last four team [in the All-Ireland SFC] and they’ve been pushing that boat for the last five or six years so regardless of who they put out we know we’re going to get a stronger test – but that’s what we need.”
McGeeney would be glad of at least one more game before the League starts, with the semi-finals scheduled for this weekend: “It’d be great to have it. Competitive games at this time of year are great. It’d be even better if they scrapped the pre-season competitions and played 14 National League games, home and away, stop all the messing about.”
While Armagh have impressed so far, Monaghan have blown hot and cold, comfortably disposing of Antrim by an eight-point margin in their opener but then being pegged back to a draw by ‘the Ranch’ at the weekend.
Their starting side in Clones on Sunday arguably included only three or four first choice players, with nine alterations from their line-out against Antrim, so it will be interesting to see how strong a side O’Rourke selects tonight.
There’s no doubt that they’ll have to be defensively better than they were in their first two games, when they conceded a cumulative 1-29, because Armagh have been extremely potent in attack.
The Orchardmen have racked up 8-38 and won ‘pulling up’ against Antrim, having already scored 2-12 in the first half at Glenavy.
McGeeney made six personnel changes between their first and second games, but only one of those in attack, with Jamie Clarke brought in and Jarlath Og Burns pushed back into midfield.
Defender James Morgan may be rested due to the knee niggle which forced him off late on against Antrim, so Charlie Vernon could come into the starting line-up, while Joe McElroy, Aaron McKay, Pearse Casey, and Aidan Nugent will be among those hoping to get more game-time.
Barry McGinn has impressed in attack for Monaghan in the absence of Conor McManus, scoring 1-10 so far, while Carrickmacross prospect Stephen O’Hanlon could get another opportunity to show his ability up front.