Armagh must win in Meath to stay on course for promotion says Mark Shields
LAST minute equalizers for Kildare and Clare denied Armagh wins that seemed there for the taking so Mark Shields now views Sunday’s trip to Meath as a game the Orchardmen have to win to keep their promotion hopes alive.
Kildare’s Jimmy Hyland pointed a late free to snatch a draw for the Lilywhites in Armagh’s Division Two opener and Clare’s David Tubridy did the same on Sunday with an extraordinary sideline kick that the umpires ruled had crossed the goalline.
Armagh disputed both Clare goals in the 1-13 to 2-10 Newry stalemate but their protests fell on deaf ears and the upshot is that Kieran McGeeney’s men probably need to win in Navan to force their way up to Division One which is where Shields wants to play his football.
“Hopefully we can push it on this year because I want to be in Division One,” said fleet-footed Whitecross wing-back Shields.
“I want to be playing the Dublins and Mayos, we need to be playing them to push this young team on. I want to get promotion this year (not relegation) because playing Division Three isn’t going to get you further in the Championship – you need to be playing the best teams to improve.”
Armagh put together some thrilling Qualifier runs but they have now gone four seasons without an Ulster win. Shields agreed that the Orchardmen had struggled to adapt to the pace of Championship football after playing in Division Three.
“Going to different places in Division Three you could be complacent and not put in as much work but Division Two definitely brings out the better football in us,” he said.
“We need to be playing better opposition to push on in the Championship.
“We have Down coming up again. Hopefully we’ll get a few more wins in the League and either get promoted or stay safe but you have to get it out of your head quick because the Championship is a different ball game.
“There’s a lot riding on the Championship and hopefully we’ll get a good run in the Championship this year – it’s much needed.”
Newly-promoted Armagh have settled quickly in Division Two this year. Their performances so far suggest that – even without an extensive list of injured players including Andrew Murnin, Oisin O’Neill, Ethan Rafferty and Patrick Burns - they are capable of clinching one of the promotion places.
“I believe we are,” said Shields.
“This is my eighth or ninth year now and I have seen many teams go past. This team now, I think there is something about us.
“We had a great McKenna Cup and we’ve been on the other side of the (narrow) wins – we had one point wins against Monaghan and Donegal – but we need to bring that form into the League and get some wins on the board.”
Now one of the most experienced members of the panel, Shields has been there since Kieran McGeeney linked up with the squad. The revered former Armagh skipper was initially installed as Paul Grimley’s assistant and is now in his fifth season as manager.
McGeeney was appointed for a five-year terms and Shields - who revealed that Aidan Forker was the Armagh manager's most formidable opponent in the MMA-style grappling exercises the Orchardmen practised at one stage - is keen that he stays on beyond it.
“I do (want him to stay on), definitely,” he said.
“He’s a great manager, a great man-manager and even for your career, he really looks after that and helps you out.
“It is frustrating when you see people come and go it is a bit frustrating and Geezer has basically had to rebuild in most of the years.
“But there are a lot of young players now who are really committed to the team – the likes of Rian O’Neill, Connaire Mackin and Jemar Hall – all of them are really pushing it on.”